August 07, 2015

MANKATO, Minn. (AP) Cullen Loeffler never dreamed he'd still be snapping a football when he was 34.

When he started, Loeffler thought it might derail his dream of playing professional football, but he sees now that coaches usually know best.

''I wasn't really sure if that's what I wanted to do,'' said Loeffler, the longest-tenured Vikings player. ''I'm really fortunate that (Texas coach Mack Brown) and the assistant coaches had the foresight to see that I could be pretty good at it.''

Loeffler, who has played more games at long snapper (171) than anyone in franchise history, is in a training camp battle for his position. It's the first time the Vikings have had two snappers at camp since 2005, even though specialists will always say that their competition is just a phone call and plane flight away.

''It's pretty simple,'' Loeffler said. ''I've always tried to take it one snap at a time and try to treat every year as if I was a rookie again. If you're afraid of competition, you're never going to make it in this league.''

This is the most serious challenge for Loeffler through 12 training camps. Kevin McDermott is younger and cheaper, and he has some experience, having snapped for San Francisco and Baltimore in his first two NFL seasons. McDermott was a teammate of Vikings punter Jeff Locke at UCLA.

The two have split the practice reps, spending most of their on-field time with kicker Blair Walsh and Locke.

Special teams coach Mike Priefer felt there needed to be another snapper at camp so that Loeffler would either clean up some inconsistencies or lose his spot on the roster. Priefer, who had worked out McDermott coming out of UCLA, said the competition has been pretty even so far and he wants to see what happens in preseason games.

''Either Cullen was going to keep working like he always does and improve and help us win that way, or we're going to bring in somebody that could beat him out,'' Priefer said. ''Right now it's an open competition.

''They're both being true professionals, they're both fine, young men and a pleasure to work with. Basically, when we get through the preseason, then we'll know who the best man is.''

Loeffler came to the Vikings in 2004 as a little-known undrafted free agent. A high-school quarterback, Loeffler went to Texas as a tight end, given that Major Applewhite was the incumbent at quarterback, with highly recruited Chris Simms joining the program.

Loeffler had some friends who were snappers, so he started messing around with it. He had played some tight end as a redshirt freshman, but as he developed, he became more valuable to the program as a snapper. As a sophomore, he became the starter.

''I joked with the guys that I could do a better job than they did,'' Loeffler said. ''I wasn't very good at first, but I kept working on it.''

He watched film of NFL snappers. He worked with assistant coaches on technique, trying to keep velocity on a tight spiral while also blocking a charging defender. He did well enough to get a chance with the Vikings, and as a rookie he beat out Brody Liddiard, who snapped the previous three seasons.

The affable Loeffler has played in every game for 11 seasons except the final five of 2011, when he was injured. He signed a one-year contract for $1.05 million, with an $80,000 signing bonus, in the offseason, a slight pay cut from 2014 and a sure sign the team was uncertain if Loeffler would be around for a 12th season.

Loeffler said the competition has forced him to become better and more focused. He's not ready to relinquish a roster spot.

''Throughout my career, I've tried never to become complacent,'' Loeffler said. ''We have scouts everywhere around the league trying to make our roster the best, and the bottom line is, you have to be the best you can be.

''I remember my rookie year like it was yesterday, and now I've played in 171 regular-season games. It's a great feeling to be with one team my entire career. It's the greatest job in the greatest sport in the world, in my opinion. I'm thankful to be a part of it.''

NOTES: QB Teddy Bridgewater missed Friday afternoon's walk-through, leaving training camp to deal with a family matter. He is expected to meet the team in Canton, Ohio, before Sunday's Hall of Fame Game against Pittsburgh. ... Linebacker Anthony Barr missed another day of practice as he recovers from inflammation in his left knee. Coach Mike Zimmer did not rule out Barr playing on Sunday, though he hasn't practiced since Monday.

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