The Minnesota Vikings should hire Ryan Longwell to coach place-kickers.
The team needs a kicker whisperer in the worst way. Poor place-kicking cost Mike Zimmer’s Vikings a playoff win against Seattle a few years ago. Poor kicking cost the Vikings a divisional road win in Green Bay a few days ago.
A few years or a few days. It can’t happen again if the Vikings are serious about winning the Super Bowl.
Longwell Splits the Uprights
Longwell appeared on the Mackey and Judd radio show Monday. Thirty minutes into the show, Judd Zulgad and Manny Hill got Longwell on the line to talk place-kicking.
Longwell’s kicking intellect split the uprights.
When asked about the Vikings recurring problems with place-kickers, Longwell said the Vikings place-kicking problems are self-inflicted: “To have Dan Bailey as their fifth kicker in six seasons to me says a lot more about [the Vikings’] approach than it does about the [kickers]. It goes back to the wrong words and the wrong kind of approach.”
The goal of teaching NFL kickers, Longwell said, is not to make kicks, the goal is to last in the league. Longwell knows. He collected paychecks for 16 years.
Longwell came into the league with Green Bay as an un-drafted free agent. His camp competition was drafted kicker Brett Conway, who kicked at Penn State. Conway, like Daniel Carlson, couldn’t kick when it counted. Longwell could, and he kicked for Green Bay for 10 years before coming to the Vikings, where he Minnesota’s Steady Eddie for the final six years of his career.
Former Packers general manager Ron Wolf told Longwell that the biggest mistake Wolf had made was thinking that big school kickers had a better chance of making it in the NFL. “There’s a lot pressure on [drafted] kickers,” Longwell said. “It’s not like kicking in college. [The NFL] is a whole different animal. A lot of these kids are set up for disaster.”
Longwell said established NFL kickers like Robbie Gould, Phil Dawson and Adam Vinatieri have differing kicking styles. All, however, had similar mental approaches that kept their stroke smooth. “Their head position and eye position is absolutely perfect to allow the leg to swing through and start the ball where you are aiming,” Longwell said. “If you can’t start the ball where you are aiming, you got no chance.”
Kicked for Priefer
Longwell kicked for special team’s coach Mike Priefer. He called Priefer one of the best special teams coaches in the league. Still, something hasn’t been working. “The coaching and the approach and how you speak to the [kicker] and how you get through to the [kickers] is not working,” Longwell said. “That could be one hundred different things. There is a rhythm and a timing and a cadence and a routine that has to be prevalent in a kicker.”
Remember Blair Walsh’s 27-yard, “chip-shot” miss against Seattle?
“There’s no such thing as an easy kick and there’s no such thing as a chip shot,” Longwell said. “The best of the best and the best coaches know how to keep the calm and keep everything in rhythm. When you miss one, there’s no panic on the next one. You still slow it back down. When you speed up, you try to swing harder. When you swing harder, your leg comes through, your head comes down lower, you keep your eyes on the ball too long. Everything [is] jammed. And when everything [is] jammed going faster, kicks miss high and right or they miss low left. That’s one thing most coaches don’t understand. These high school and college coaches go to kicking camps that are taught how to kick, but they’re not taught how to be a kicker.”
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“When things go faster and things jam up, [the kick] either goes high right like what happened to [Carlson] Sunday or you hit the low left one like [Walsh] did against the Seahawks. Those things always show up in the worst possible time when you need it most. It’s very fixable, but it’s something you can’t fix with a stop watch and slow-mo video.”
Heads, Rib Cages, Legs and 12 O’Clock High
Often, coaches coach kickers the wrong way.
“The worst coaching ever in kicking is ‘Keep your head down,'” Longwell said. “All that does is sequentially get things out of rhythm and causes havoc where you make contact on the ball. By keeping your eye on the ball, it forces your rib cage and your head down too far, so when your leg is coming up, your rib cage actually blocks your right leg from following through.
“Twelve O’clock is where we’re aiming, right down the middle of the uprights. The more your head goes down, the more your “straight” becomes more like one o’clock and two o’clock. And then when you’re really swinging hard with the pressure and you have to get the ball up fast and you’re told, ‘We need the ball up and out of there, up and out of there, get it off, get it off!; the kick that that barely misses right becomes the two to two-thirty miss that is barely catching the net [behind the goal posts].”
Longwell says NFL teams miss the uprights: “There are guys who are draft-able that weren’t drafted and there are guys who were drafted that I would not touch with a ten-foot pole,” Longwell said. “I can look at a guy and after two kicks know if he’s got a chance.”
Zulgad asked Longwell if the Vikings called him and asked him to join the team as a kicking consultant, would he bite? “I think I could help the cause,” Longwell said. “[The consultant] better be some guy whose kicked before and not some guy who has never kicked a football in his life.”
Roger Dier covers the Minnesota Vikings and is managing editor of NHL content for Full Press Coverage. Follow Roger on Twitter @rogerdier.
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