Friday, August 22, 2008

Hauschka making the most of an opportunity

August 22, 2008

By Kevin Seifert

We told you we planned to experiment with the weekly mailbag and we're still doing it. This week, we decided to produce a feature-style post based on a reader's question or comment. Monty of Buffalo suggested telling the story of rookie placekicker Steven Hauschka, who has been in a unique position this summer with the Minnesota Vikings.

Ask and you shall receive.

Barring catastrophic injuries elsewhere, Steven Hauschka has no chance to make the Vikings' 53-man roster. He never did and knew it the day he signed as an undrafted rookie; Veteran Ryan Longwell is firmly entrenched in the job.

As it turns out, however, Hauschka could not have made a better choice. The Vikings decided this summer to curtail Longwell's preseason kicks to maintain his leg strength, giving Hauschka the relatively rare opportunity to kick exclusively in their first two preseason games.

Hauschka has made the most of it, connecting on all eight attempts -- including a 48-yard field goal last Saturday in Baltimore. Longwell is expected to resume his duties this Saturday against Pittsburgh, but if nothing else Hauschka likely has earned himself a few tryouts when the annual scramble for kicking help begins later this month.

"He's done a great job listening and taking suggestions," Longwell said. "He's realized there is a bigger picture here than just trying to kick it right now. He's done a great job and I think he has a chance to kick in this league."

Like many kickers, Hauschka took a unique road to this point. He started as a soccer player at Division III Middlebury College before walking on to the football team as a sophomore. As a result, he had one year of football eligibility remaining when he graduated in 2006.

With an eye toward the NFL, Hauschka began graduate work at N.C. State and walked on for the 2007 season. He won the Wolfpack's kicking job, made 16 of 18 field goals and led the ACC with an 88.9 percent conversion percentage.

Undrafted rookies rarely win a job in their first training camp, so Hauschka took a more global view in deciding his next step.

"I looked at it and thought, 'Ryan is obviously a 12-year veteran,'" Hauschka said. "'There's a reason why he's been around for so long. He really knows what he's doing.' I just thought I could learn a lot from him and get some good exposure while I was doing it.

"There are very few kicking coaches," Hauschka added. "So really the guys that know the most about kicking are the guys that are in the NFL, and they're not always willing to share it. I'm thankful that Ryan has been."

Among the many adjustments Longwell has suggested is squaring his hips toward the crossbar, rather than angling them toward the pylon, when setting up for a field goal. Hauschka also had a 20-minute conversation last week with Ravens kicker Matt Stover and is keeping a journal of everything he learns this summer.

"I give him a lot of credit," Longwell said. "I've been with guys in camp that I've suggested things to, and they have said, 'No, my way is the way I want to do it.' They never pan out. But he's taken the suggestions and he's got a great situation here: Two full games for himself. That's rare for an undrafted guy. He's performed well, and you never know. There's certainly some jobs open out there."

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