Art of tackling really lost on specialists
Ryan Longwell (Hannah Foslien/Getty)
Ryan Longwell (Hannah Foslien/Getty)
Posted Sep 15, 2011

The injury to Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding brought up an inquiry: How much do kickers and punters work on tackling? Ryan Longwell, with a bus-throwing assist from Cullen Loeffler, talked about it.

For fans who attend training camp, one of the first things that they notice when they watch practices (non walk-through practices, anyway) is that special-teamers are typically separated off from the rest of the players. Kicker Ryan Longwell, punter Chris Kluwe and long snapper Cullen Loeffler are usually off on their own – either snapping and kicking or watching the offense and defense go through drills.

One thing you rarely, if ever, see is Longwell and Kluwe going through tackling drills. That isn’t part of the job description for kickers and punters, who often look dazed and confused when trying to tackle on a punt or kickoff return that is on its way for a touchdown. In most instances, the specialist gets schooled and doesn’t look all that athletic.

In Sunday’s season opener against San Diego, when Percy Harvin made a cut at the 30-yard line that sprung his touchdown run, you briefly see kicker Nate Kaeding crumpling to the ground, whiffing on an attempt to make a tackle. In the process of never laying a finger on Harvin, Kaeding tore his ACL, fell to the turf and saw his 2011 season end on the first play.

Longwell said he saw the play and said he felt sympathy for Kaeding, one of the league’s most consistent kickers.

“You always feel bad when things like that happen,” Longwell said. “We’re a pretty small fraternity – there’s only 32 of us. It looked like he spun and planted his foot at the same time. It was just a fluky play. People say that kickers aren’t athletes, but he was making an athletic move.”

Really? Maybe he was attempting to make an athletic move, but watch the replay again. That wasn’t an athletic move. It looked like a hot dog vendor trying to make a play. It was probably because kickers don’t work on their tackling. They usually lay back on a kickoff and pray that the returner doesn’t come back to them, right? Wrong, according to Longwell.

“Kluwe and I actually went through tackling drills at training camp,” Longwell said. “We worked on our form a little bit. It’s not something we’re used to doing, but we’re pretty good athletes, but at that speed, against those athletes [return specialists], it’s a different animal.”

When asked to confirm the rigid tackling process they went through, Loeffler provided the bus with which to throw them under.

“He said they worked on their tackling form?” Loeffler asked with a laugh. “If they did, I’m not sure it’s done a lot of good. We just always hope it never comes down to them making a tackle.”

If nothing else, they may be better advised to let the return man go. Injuries like Kaeding’s bring a heavy toll that goes beyond one play, especially when they whiff and get hurt.


  • The first injury reports of the week were released. DE Adrian Awasom didn’t practice because of a knee injury. Two other Vikings on it – CB Asher Allen (toe) and WR Michael Jenkins (groin) – were both listed on the report, but practiced fully.

  • The Bucs have already ruled out WR Sammie Stroughter with a foot injury. Two other players didn’t participate. TE Kellen Winslow’s absence from the practice was non-injury related. CB Myron Lewis was sidelined with an ankle injury.

  • It isn’t a requirement to get off to a hot start in the NFL to achieve full-season success. Since the divisions realigned in 2002, more than 57 percent of the 108 playoff teams started the season at 1-1 or 0-2 after two weeks. However, no team that has started 0-2 has made the playoffs the last two seasons.

  • From the And Now For Something Completely Different Department, Centerplate, the concession provider at the Metrodome, announced some new menu items for fans looking to get their grub on. Those with solid heart arteries may want to try the Sausage Kabob, which includes smoked bratwurst, Polish sausage, a hot link and jalapeno and cheese bratwurst – replete with purple onions and gold peppers. For those with a hankering for buffalo, their will be cheeseburgers, brats and hot dogs available made with bison meat. Somewhere, a vegan is crying.

    John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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