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‘Pro’s pro’ Loeffler exits with class after 11 seasons with Vikings

By Chris Tomasson St. Paul Pioneer Press MINNEAPOLIS -- Vikings players were off Sunday when Kevin McDermott's phone rang. It was Cullen Loeffler calling to offer congratulations. That's how McDermott found out he would be the team's long snapper...

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(Kelley L. Cox, USA TODAY Sports) Minnesota Vikings long snapper Cullen Loeffler on the sideline against the San Francisco 49ers in the second quarter of a preseason game Aug. 10, 2012 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.

By Chris Tomasson

St. Paul Pioneer Press

MINNEAPOLIS - Vikings players were off Sunday when Kevin McDermott’s phone rang. It was Cullen Loeffler calling to offer congratulations.

That’s how McDermott found out he would be the team’s long snapper this season.

After battling McDermott for the job since the first day of training camp, Loeffler, the Vikings’ longest-tenured player with 11 seasons with the team, was being released.

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“He’s a pro’s pro,” McDermott said Monday, when the move was made official. “It means a lot to have him call me and congratulate me. So that speaks a lot for the kind of guy he is.”

Loeffler, 34, Minnesota’s long snapper since 2004, was coming off a mediocre 2014. So the Vikings brought in competition for the first time since his rookie year, and McDermott claimed the job with two preseason games remaining.

In Saturday’s 20-12 exhibition victory over Oakland, kicker Blair Walsh missed three field-goal attempts and an extra-point try. However, coach Mike Zimmer said that was not a factor in Monday’s move.

“(McDermott) was faster with his snaps,” Zimmer said. “He was more accurate with his snaps when we charted everyone. … Releasing Cullen Loeffler had nothing to do with what happened the other night. It’s a process of what happened during training camp this whole time.”

Walsh said none of the snaps by Loeffler or McDermott had anything to do with his missed kicks against the Raiders.

Zimmer said the move was made now to “get the timing down between the center, holder and the kicker and the punter” in preparation for the Sept. 14 regular-season opener at San Francisco.

Loeffler was called into Winter Park on Sunday and delivered the news. He spoke Monday about what he called a “really special” tenure after being an undrafted signee out of the University of Texas.

“I’m just thankful for the opportunity and thankful to be part of the organization that I have a lot of respect for,” Loeffler said. “I wish everyone, all within the organization, nothing but the best, and I’m just happy to have a positive legacy, and hopefully the Vikings eventually will get that elusive ring one day. … I’m thankful for having had the opportunity to play this long.”

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Loeffler said he doesn’t know whether he will retire or try to hook up with another team.

“We’ll see,” he said. “I guess now we’ll just kind of wait and see what’s out there and what the opportunities are.”

Loeffler will be paid $220,000 in guaranteed money from his one-year, $970,000 contract. McDermott, who is entering his third season after appearing in 23 games the past two years with San Francisco and Baltimore, is slated to earn $585,000 this season.

“I just came out there and tried to get better and tried to learn from Cullen,” McDermott said. “So at the end of the day, they made the decision, and I’m honored to be here.”

“Cullen is a great friend of mine and a great teammate,” said Walsh, who also spoke to Loeffler on Sunday. “He’s the guy who helped transition me into this league (as a rookie in 2012), so it’s sad to see him go. But I talked to him. … He knows that Kevin won the job fair and square, and we’re ready to move forward with Kevin.”

The Vikings’ longest-tenured player now is linebacker Chad Greenway, a 10-year veteran. Drafted in 2006, he made his regular-season debut until 2007 after a knee injury kept him sidelined for his rookie season.

Middle linebacker job still open

Middle linebacker might be the Vikings’ last remaining starting job up for grabs, and coach Mike Zimmer is making it interesting.

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Before practice Monday, Zimmer said he knows who he will start Saturday’s preseason game at Dallas, but he wouldn’t reveal it because he hadn’t yet told his players. Gerald Hodges then got the majority of first-team reps in the workout.

Battling for the job are Hodges; Audie Cole, who started the first two preseason games; and rookie Eric Kendricks, who started Saturday’s 20-12 preseason win over Oakland. Hodges started the first two preseason games on the outside in place of injured Anthony Barr before coming off the bench against the Raiders.

“I’m just trying to get through this week,” Zimmer said of the competition. “We’ll see. If it goes good this week, then maybe we will go with it the rest of the way. If guys are playing good, they’ll keep playing.”

Training camp began with strong competition at two other starting spots, but Mike Harris is now secure at right guard and Robert Blanton has a firm hold at strong safety. The long snapper battle was settled when Cullen Loeffler was released Monday and Kevin McDermott given the spot.

Kendricks got 20 snaps in Saturday’s start.

“He fitted one thing wrong and then they got basically the same play again later and he got it right after we corrected him on the sideline, but for the most part he did all right,” Zimmer said.

Zimmer also said Barr was solid, if not spectacular, against the Raiders - his first game since Nov. 30 because of a knee injury.

Ford battling for job

Chase Ford had more receiving yards than any Vikings tight end last season, but he’s now in jeopardy of not making the team.

Ford, who caught 23 passes for 258 yards in 2014, could be the odd man out in a crowded position group. Starter Kyle Rudolph, blocking specialist Rhett Ellison and rookie MyCole Pruitt all figure to survive the final cut.

Ford has 34 catches for 391 yards the past two seasons with the Vikings. He had some strong outings last season when Rudolph missed seven games because of injury.

Ford at least didn’t hurt himself in Saturday’s 20-12 preseason victory over Oakland, catching five passes for 19 yards. He had a 4-yard touchdown reception in the middle of the end zone, hanging onto the ball after being hit very hard.

“Any opportunity you have a chance to catch the ball, you need to catch it,” Ford said. “You don’t want to miss the ball. That’s how you get cut.”

NFL teams must cut down from 90 to 75 by Sept. 1, then to the regular-season limit of 53 by Sept. 5. Zimmer didn’t want to speculate Monday on Ford’s chances or on whether the Vikings could keep four tight ends, but Zimmer did speak well of Ford’s performance Saturday.

“Chase does a really good job in the passing game,” Zimmer said. “He catches the ball well, he runs good routes and he’s got to continue to maintain consistency.”

Minnesota’s three tight ends last year were Rudolph, Ellison and Ford. Pruitt, a fifth-round pick from Southern Illinois, now is a cinch to make the team.

Briefly

Not participating in practice Monday were Pruit (ankle), center John Sullivan (muscle spasms), defensive tackle Shamar Stephen (knee surgery), safety Antone Exum (hamstring) and cornerback Josh Robinson (shoulder). Stephen, who had arthroscopic knee surgery and is expected to be ready for the Sept. 14 regular-season opener, was on the field for the first time in 12 days.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service

 

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