Vikings find stability in special teams

Chris Kluwe (Jon Dahlin/Viking Update)

Of all the problems the Vikings have experienced this year, special teams hasn't been a major concern. With a stable group of players in the kicking game, success has followed.

Chris Kluwe is on Minnesota's injury report this week because of a strained right hamstring, a twinge he felt running up the field after his first punt of the game last week.

Kluwe said Thursday his leg feels fine and that he should have no problem playing Sunday against Arizona. But he has not kicked yet this week in practice, and Vikings coach Leslie Frazier acknowledged his absence would be a concern if he can't punt Friday.

Bringing in free agents for tryouts is a near-weekly ritual during the regular season for NFL teams, but the Vikings were at least moved enough to invite former Detroit punter Nick Harris to show off his leg, one option in case Kluwe for some reason is deemed unusable.

"We're taking the amputation off the table for right now," Kluwe quipped before practice Thursday.

Kluwe said he feels discomfort actually on the outside of his leg, not in the middle of the hamstring muscle, so it doesn't affect his kicking motion.

"It's football, not tiddlywinks, so I'll play through it," Kluwe said.

The mere mention of a punter's status for a game being in question is unusual, particularly for Minnesota, where specialist stability has been a rather underrated plus.

Since kicker Ryan Longwell signed with the team before the 2006 season, Kluwe, Longwell and long snapper Cullen Loeffler have taken part in every game together. According to STATS LLC, that's the longest tenure of any such trio in the league. The next group is punter Shane Lechler, kicker Sebastian Janikowski and long snapper Jon Condo, who've been with the Oakland Raiders since 2007.

The Vikings (0-4) have a lot of issues on both sides of the ball this year, but special teams at least aren't a problem. The kick coverage units have been mostly effective, Marcus Sherels has shown some flash returning punts and Percy Harvin has a kickoff return for a touchdown.

Longwell has not missed a kick. Kluwe is 10th in the league with a 46.7-yard average per punt. Loeffler hasn't had any bad snaps.

"When you've been through the pressure kicks and those situations when you know how each other is going to react, that's huge in a league where games come down to kicks a lot," Longwell said.

Kluwe is just as critical to the Vikings as a holder, and the sync that Loeffler, Kluwe and Longwell have found together is a direct cause of this special-teams success.

"I think when guys see the field goal team going out they feel good about the three of us and our chances of putting it through," Longwell said.

The timing from snap to hold to kick is critical, and the trust the three of them have in each other is also important.

"There have been times when one of us may not have been on point and because of our continuity we've been able to correct it," Loeffler said. "We can make up for it because we've seen it before, we've dealt with it before and we're able to adjust. It's been a good group and we all get along really well and have been fortunate to have a lot of success."

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