Whether they pick Kai Forbath or Marshall Koehn, the Minnesota Vikings badly need their kicker to come through after all those points squandered last season.
Koehn sure delivered last year.
While Forbath was settling in after a midseason switch from Blair Walsh in Minnesota, Koehn was making carpet and tile drop-offs for a flooring company in eastern Iowa. He lived with his parents and tried to keep his leg, mind and body in shape on the side between deliveries.
“It was a really good gig,” Koehn said. “My boss was pretty good to us.”
Kicking for the Vikings would be a pretty good job, too.
Their home games are indoors, after all, about a 4 1/2-hour drive from the Iowa City area where he was raised and eventually became a pro prospect with Iowa. He started as a walk-on and tallied 95 points in 2015 for the Hawkeyes, the ninth-most in program history.
Koehn vied last year in Miami with Andrew Franks, who’d been the Dolphins’ kicker in 2015, before being cut at the end of training camp. Koehn has the home run hitter’s leg, giving him a probably advantage in kickoffs and long-range field goals, but Forbath has the 58 games of NFL experience and an 86.6 percent conversion rate for career field goals.
“I’ve been in a couple competitions like this, and I know it brings out the best in both guys,” Koehn said. “Hopefully that’ll happen here too.”
Forbath made 15 of 15 field goals in seven games for the Vikings, despite missing three extra points. The scramble for a roster spot is familiar to him too.
“Obviously it’s a competition, but I don’t see it that way,” Forbath said. “I just see it as a way for me to get better. Obviously it’s the best man wins, but I don’t focus on what anyone else is doing. I just kind of focus on myself and getting myself ready.”
Walsh never recovered from his failed 27-yard field goal try in the closing seconds of a 10-9 loss to Seattle in the first round of the playoffs after the 2015 season. After missing four extra points and four field goals in the first nine games, Walsh was released .
One week before that, the Vikings included both Forbath and Koehn in a group of six free-agent kickers for a tryout. With that, plus about two months of organized spring workouts and the first week of training camp now on tape, the front office and the coaching staff have already had plenty of time to formulate an opinion about which of the two will be better to keep for 2017.
The kicks that will really matter, though, are about to come in the form of four preseason games. That starts with Minnesota’s opener at Buffalo on Aug. 10, with both Forbath and Koehn likely to take turns on extra points, field goals and kickoffs. The Vikings are also choosing a punter, between Ryan Quigley and Taylor Symmank.
“You always want a strong-legged guy, but again, Kai is better than he was a year ago in my opinion. Marshall is a strong-legged guy. Marshall, his task is to be more consistent on field goals, and Kai’s is continuing to be consistent on field goals and of course extra points for both of them and to be better on kickoffs as well,” special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said.
Though Forbath has live action in the league on his resume, Koehn is no stranger to pressure after kicking in Big Ten games with an ardent fan base behind him. As a junior in 2014, in the second game of the season, he missed two field goals under 40 yards.
“Basically got booed off of Kinnick Stadium,” he said.
Then he bounced back the next week with a 44-yard make late in the fourth quarter to tie the game against rival Iowa State.
“That’s what your coaches want to see, how you’re going to respond when you’re down,” Koehn said. “You can’t let one kick affect the next.”