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Vikings positional analysis: Specialists

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Posted March 07, 2011 @ 10:39 a.m. ET
By Eric Edholm

This is the ninth in a series of position-by-position looks at the Vikings’ personnel entering the 2011 offseason. Here is our analysis of Minnesota's special teams:

The special teams were a weakness last season, although compared to the struggles on offense and defense, it got lost in the shuffle. Actually, the kicking and punting were pretty good, but the coverage teams had some mixups and breakdowns, and the return units were not anything special when Percy Harvin wasn't healthy.

Coordinator Brian Murphy lost his job at season's end when Leslie Frazier was named the permanent head coach.

PK Ryan Longwell: The special-teams captain and a respected veteran, Longwell had only one miss on the season, a 39-yard FG attempt at Chicago in high winds. He otherwise was sterling on field goals, making 17-of-18 with a long of 48 yards. (He also had a 51-yarder negated because of penalty.) The biggest concerns about Longwell at this point are his FG distance and kickoff distance and trajectory. His kickoffs often were low liners that came down short of the goal line and put the coverage teams at a disadvantage. Out of 65 kickoffs, only three were touchbacks. Still a professional kicker, Longwell could get some competition on kickoffs next season — as the team tried to do with Rhys Lloyd prior to last season — although holding two spots for kickers is a tough sacrifice.

P Chris Kluwe: In one of his best seasons, Kluwe eliminated much of his inconsistency and became a very good directional punter with good hang time. He ranked 10th in the NFL in net average (38.9) and seventh in yards per return (7.5) and dropped 32 punts inside the 20-yard line, which tied for fifth in the NFL. The Vikings gave up just six punt returns of 10 yards or more on the season, but two of those returns were long ones by the Bears' Devin Hester, including one for a touchdown. The outspoken Kluwe ruffled some feathers with his criticism of the playing surface of TCF Bank Stadium, but he performed well on the field.

KR Percy Harvin: His 95-yard kickoff return for a TD against the Cowboys showed just how instinctive and skilled he is with the ball in his hands, but Harvin was hampered by injuries and migraines most of the season. It hurt the return units. A healthy Harvin is just a notch below Hester in terms of fear factor around the NFL.

KR Lorenzo Booker: Came on at season's end and performed moderately well, likely giving him a chance to compete for a spot in 2011 if he can contribute on offense, too.

PR Greg Camarillo: He was asked not to make mistakes early in this job, even though he hadn't returned punts much in his life. Camarillo did a respectable job for the most part, averaging 9.2 yards on 39 returns, with 20 fair catches.

Outlook: The kicking game is fine if Longwell is retained as a free agent, but new special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer will have to tidy up the coverage units and find a way to get better distance on kickoffs. Harvin (three return TDs in two seasons) should be dangerous again if he can stay healthy and solve his curious migraine issues.

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