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MANKATO – If there is intelligent alien life out there and it does indeed make its way to planet Earth, don’t be surprised if some little green fella wants to know why Kevin McDermott makes $275,000 more than the president of the United States.No...

For Vikings, the physics of kicking take on added importance

MANKATO – If there is intelligent alien life out there and it does indeed make its way to planet Earth, don’t be surprised if some little green fella wants to know why Kevin McDermott makes $275,000 more than the president of the United States.No...

For Vikings, the physics of kicking take on added importance

MANKATO – If there is intelligent alien life out there and it does indeed make its way to planet Earth, don’t be surprised if some little green fella wants to know why Kevin McDermott makes $275,000 more than the president of the United States.

No offense, Kevin. None taken.

“It’s funny,” said the Vikings’ $675,000 long snapper. “In high school, I had a coach who had been in the NFL. He pulled me aside one day and said, ‘Keep snapping that ball and you could make some money.’ But I didn’t know I’d be blessed to make this much money.”

The coach who pulled McDermott aside was Darryl Hammond, a receiver who had brief stints with the Saints (1989) and Jets (1990) before playing 16 seasons in the Arena League. A man doesn’t hang around football that long and not fully respect the value of the placekicking specialists in a multibillion-dollar industry where even the best and worst of 32 teams often are separated by a single field goal.

And, besides, there’s no way the president of the United States, the leader of the free world, can spread his feet, bend over and spin a football exactly 8 yards, making 3½ rotations so that the laces are pointing straight up when the holder receives the ball. At least not in full pads while on the clock.

“The get-off time from my snap to Blair [Walsh] kicking it is 1.3 seconds,” McDermott said. “So that’s our goal.” CARLOS GONZALEZ • cgonzalez@startribune.com Long snapper Kevin McDermott (47), holder Jeff Locke (18) and kicker Blair Walsh are looking ahead. “The next opportunity I get to win the game, I’m going to do my best to make it and come through for us,’’ Walsh said.

Whoa. Wait a minute, Kevin. The kicker disagrees. Or at least he’s not one to round up willy-nilly to the nearest tenth of a second.

“You want anywhere from 1.27 to 1.32,” Walsh said. “If you do that, you’re solid and you won’t get blocked. It’s very, very detailed.”

It’s also very, very difficult to do when the game-time temperature comes with a minus-25 windchill, as was the case when, well, you know. Just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong when Walsh pulled that 27-yarder wide left with 22 seconds left in the 10-9 loss to Seattle at TCF Bank Stadium on Jan. 10.

“Doing anything in minus-25 degrees is different than doing it at 75 or even 25,” McDermott said. “That’s not an excuse. It’s our job to make sure the laces are correct and we present the ball in perfect fashion for Blair. That didn’t happen.”

If you look down the nose of a football and think of it as a clock, the laces ideally should be pointing straight up at 12 o’clock when holder Jeff Locke catches the ball with his right hand extended and his left palm as a backstop.

“At 12 o’clock, you can literally just set the ball down to be kicked,” Locke said. “Anything between 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock is OK, too. That’s such a minimal movement to spin the ball so the laces are facing downfield. But 6 o’clock is straight back. That’s where you don’t want it.”

Guess where the laces were on Walsh’s miss. His only miss, by the way, out of four attempts that day and 18 at TCF Bank Stadium the entire season. Yeah, the laces arrived at the dreaded 6 o’clock position.

“I’ve taken snaps from Kevin since I was a sophomore in college,” Locke said of his former UCLA teammate. “I’m never expecting it to be a bad snap. I’m expecting it to be right on the money, and it almost always is.”

To get that consistency, McDermott will snap the ball up to 200 times a day in the offseason. He’ll position his feet exactly the same way every time. Grip the ball the same way. Spin it the same way.

Aiming for consistency

Locke’s job starts with asking McDermott where his snap point is. Exactly. And then he has to show Walsh the set point. Exactly.

“If it’s even 5 inches off, we’re done,” Locke said. “Wind can change the rotation of the ball, too. But it’s also on me to make sure I always set my body up the same way and catch the ball the same way. If my hand is just a little ahead or a little farther back, it’s going to change everything.”

Special teams coach Mike Priefer said Locke “wasn’t a very good holder when he got here [in 2013] but has worked hard and gotten better.”

“There are so many little things that affect the kick that I never thought about,” Locke said. “Like putting too much pressure on the ball. If your finger is pressing down on the ball too hard, you’re pushing the ball into the ground, the ball is going to spin super fast coming out and you’re going to lose 5 yards on the kick.

“Or, like when you play on the field in Chicago, you can’t slam the ball down. If you slam it down, half the ball disappears in the grass.”

And, again, a minus-25 windchill isn’t an excuse. But it can help explain missing a makable field goal.

“The ball was just frozen,” Locke said. “I really don’t know what to say about that. I just couldn’t spin it. The ball was too slick and too frozen to spin it. It was just kind of how it was. I wanted to spin it. I gave it my best effort, and it just wouldn’t spin.

“With the weather, I was happy to catch it. I just wasn’t comfortable spinning it with how I caught it and put it down.”

Battling the laces

Walsh made field goals of 22, 43 and 47 yards to give the Vikings a 9-0 lead entering the fourth quarter. He said this week that, laces or no laces, he should have made the 27-yarder because it’s possible for him to adjust his swing — in less than 1.27 seconds — when he sees the laces pointing back at him.

“It’s a weird sight to see the white laces before the kick,” Walsh said, “but you just know you have to be a little bit more under control with your swing and be really, really solid with your contact because the laces aren’t going to allow you to hit that nice fat part of the ball.”

Walsh said the laces “can have an effect on where the ball goes but shouldn’t determine whether you make or miss” the field goal.

“Especially from that distance,” Walsh said. “If you look at that game, we kicked laces on one of the other attempts from 43 or 47 yards and it went through dead center. So seeing laces, it happens so rarely that you can’t freak out or fret about it.”

Such precision is needed at the highest level of football. And to think McDermott’s journey to where he is began in middle school in Nashville when all 15 members of his seventh-grade football team were asked to try out for long-snapping duties.

He snapped a ball to the punter and, well, here we are. The second-year Viking also snaps on punts to Locke. More precisely, he snaps a ball 14 ½ yards in less than .75 seconds.

“My goal is anywhere from .69 to .72,” McDermott said. “That’s my personal sweet spot. There are plenty of people who can throw .60, but they’re all over the place. Me, I’m aiming for anything from right below the belt line to the numbers. But Jeff’s left-footed, so by rule of thumb, you aim for his left hip.”

Let’s see Hilary or Donald pull that one off.

The 6-5 McDermott was more of a basketball standout at Ensworth High School in Nashville. But he walked on at UCLA as a long snapper and “a tight end to serve as tackling dummy for the defense.” For three years, he sat behind long snapper Christian Yount. When Yount went on to snap for the Cleveland Browns, McDermott snapped for the Bruins for two years.

He unseated 13-year veteran Brian Jennings as an undrafted rookie with the 49ers in 2013. He snapped in seven games for the Ravens in 2014 and beat out 11-year veteran Cullen Loeffler for the Vikings’ job a year ago.

A year later, he is the starting point on a unit that’s planning on bouncing back from one of the more painful field goal misses in team history.

“It’s been good,” Walsh said. “All three of us are really confident guys. I’m really confident because of what I’ve been able to do in this league so far. I’m a firm believer that I’m one of the top five guys in the league.

“That’s my mind-set, to come out here and continue to be one of the elites in the league. The next opportunity I get to win the game, I’m going to do my best to make it and come through for us. And I have complete confidence Kevin and Jeff will do the same.”

Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.

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