EAGAN, Minn. – This weekend, Daniel Carlson will be returning home. Or at least close to it.
The rookie kicker will suit up for his first NFL game when the Vikings face the Broncos for the first preseason game Saturday night, and he’s expecting a big crowd of familiar faces.
Carlson grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado, a 70-mile drive from Broncos Stadium at Mile High.
“A lot of friends and family [will be there],” Carlson told media members at Verizon Vikings Training Camp. “It’ll be exciting to have them there at the stadium and cheering me on.”
The fifth-round pick attended The Classical Academy, where the seasoned soccer player tried his hand – or foot, rather – at football. Inexperienced or not, Carlson caught the eyes of college scouts as both a kicker and a punter.
Carlson received multiple scholarship offers and went on to Auburn, where he made a number of big field goals throughout his career with the Tigers.
When asked if he had ever kicked from 60-plus yards out in a game, Carlson said the distance was really only attempted in practice situations. He added that he took a couple of 60-yard shots “just for a little fun” in Auburn’s 2017 spring game.
“I made them, so that was good,” Carlson said nonchalantly. “It’s fun to try out that stuff, but not always the most game-realistic.
“If you miss it, you’re giving up pretty good field position,” Carlson added. “At the end of the half or the end of the game, sometimes you can try them. But we’ll see what we can do out in Denver this weekend.”
Carlson has plenty of experience kicking in Colorado, where the higher elevation “helps the ball a little” and can provide a different environment to kick in.
“We’ll see what the weather’s like, but maybe a couple extra yards on kickoffs and field goals,” Carlson said. “You can’t really ask for a better climate, though, for kicking. Hopefully it’ll be a nice warm day and we can kick some long ones.”
Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer, who spent two seasons with the Broncos prior to joining the Vikings in 2011 told media members on Monday that it’s important for specialists to avoid “trying to kill the ball” when playing in high elevation. He emphasized that he wants Carlson, fellow kicker Kai Forbath and punter Ryan Quigley to kick the way they’re supposed to kick rather than changing technique to take advantage of the higher elevation.
In the past, Priefer said he’s had to remind players to take it easy.
“Daniel, we’ll have to reign him in a bit because he’ll want to kick the ball into the stands on kickoffs,” Priefer said. “We just have to do what we do and do it the best we can every time.”
Carlson also said that Priefer doesn’t want him and Forbath to try for touchbacks on every kickoff because it’s important during preseason games to get a good luck at the young special teams corps on coverage teams.
When asked the farthest field goal he’s hit in Colorado, Carlson smiled.
“This offseason I hit 75 over at the Air Force Academy,” Carlson said. “That [elevation] gives you a couple extra yards, for sure, but we’ll see. Obviously that’s not a game-situation kick with a live snap and a rush and everything, but we’ll see what we can do pregame.”
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer was asked about the rookie’s power and said he hadn’t been surprised.
“We kind of knew he had a big leg — a big, strong guy that can kick the ball a long ways,” Zimmer said. “I mean, that was part of the reason why we drafted him.”
At 6-foot-5, and taller than the majority of kickers, Carlson was asked by a writer if he has spent much time studying the physics of his position.
Carlson acknowledged that there are pros and cons to being lengthy and long-legged.
“I’ve got longer levers … so I get a little more torque and a little more velocity on the ball,” Carlson said. “But obviously you’ve got to also work on controlling that, so you’ve got to work on the accuracy a little more, I think, than some other shorter guys who have an easier time kind of controlling their shorter levers than I do.
“My little brother’s 6-foot-5 and still growing,” Carlson quipped. “So we’ll see in a few years.”
Taking after his older brother, Anders Carlson has taken over the job at Auburn while Daniel pursues his NFL dream – starting with a trip back home where it all began.
“It’ll be a treat for sure,” Carlson said of anticipating his first pro game. “That first game’s always a little exciting and you get the butterflies, but that’s what it’s all about. That’s what makes it fun to be out there – those big moments and stuff. Just fired up to get out there Saturday.”