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Vikings bring in new punter, keep old one

By Dave Campbell

Associated Press

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings didn't want to keep an extra kicker on the roster just to kick off, but now they've got one around who's not even doing that.

Free agent punter Leo Araguz was signed Tuesday to replace rookie Eddie Johnson, whose potential kept him from getting cut. Defensive lineman Cedric Killings, a player who has impressed coach Mike Tice in practice but has been inactive for all 14 games, was released instead.

That made it difficult for Johnson, who believed he was on the way out but was appreciative of the faith Tice showed in him despite an average of just 39.1 yards per punt.

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"It's too bad it came to this," said Johnson, who was drafted in the sixth round out of Idaho State.

"He didn't get his job done, but I still like Eddie Johnson," coach Mike Tice said.

Araguz, who was in training camp with Kansas City this year, hasn't punted in a regular-season game since he was with Detroit in 2001. He spent four seasons with Oakland from 1996-99 -- two of those under the watch of current Vikings special teams coach Rusty Tillman.

"I just wanted to get an opportunity," said Araguz, who spent his time staying in shape at his home in Texas and closely monitoring the NFL's punting statistics.

"A lot of guys are struggling," said Araguz, who played collegiately at Stephen F. Austin. His best season came in 1997 with the Raiders, when he averaged 45 yards per punt.

Recently, Araguz has taken up insurance sales.

"Pretty much everything -- what do you need?" Araguz joked.

His best sell might be getting Johnson to relax and rid himself of the mental block that has contributed to him dropping snaps in each of the past three games. The Vikings believe his problems have come from his attempt to improve his "get-off" time -- the seconds it takes a punter to catch the ball and kick it.

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Araguz doesn't have the strongest leg, but he wowed Tice on Tuesday with his quick release.

"He gets the ball off real quick, so I might have to take some notes in that department," Johnson said.

PLAYOFF SCENARIOS: The Vikings, through the magic of mathematics, can clinch a wildcard spot this weekend -- and even wrap up the NFC North. To win the division, they'll have to beat Kansas City, of course, and wait for Oakland to beat Green Bay on Monday night.

In addition, they need Atlanta to beat Tampa Bay and two of the following three to occur: Detroit to beat Carolina, Washington to beat Chicago and Pittsburgh to beat San Diego. That would secure the fifth tiebreaker, strength of victory, over the Packers.

BUST A MOVE: All the talk around the league the last few days has been about excessive celebrations in light of New Orleans wide receiver Joe Horn's cell-phone conversation in the end zone following a touchdown reception on Sunday night.

Some of the Vikings were asked Wednesday about their take on the issue, and nobody took any offense to the flamboyant acts that have taken place recently.

"Everybody gets a kick out of it," running back Michael Bennett said.

Offensive lineman Bryant McKinnie said he'd certainly celebrate if he ever scored. "They could go to a commercial, come back and I'd still be celebrating," he said.

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INJURIES: Even though Tuesday was like a Wednesday at Winter Park because this weekend's game is Saturday, the NFL does not require injury reports to be released until Wednesday. LB Chris Claiborne was the only one who missed practice, and he'll be listed as questionable.

Bennett, who missed last week's game with a sprained ankle, appeared to favor his left leg in practice, but Tice said afterward he looked good. Bennett will be eased back into the mix with Moe Williams and Onterrio Smith. Williams, who has torn cartilage in his knee, is better. So is Smith, who has a thigh bruise on top of a hamstring strain.

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