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Vikings still searching for kicking solutions

By Dave Campbell

Associated Press

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The second day of the NFL draft came and went rather uneventfully for the Minnesota Vikings, but perhaps the most noteworthy development was coach Mike Tice's admission that he would be interested in bringing back Doug Brien to be his kicker.

The follies during Brien's ill-fated stint with the Vikings in 2002 haven't been forgotten by many fans, who would surely fret if that scenario played out.

After strongly considering Ohio State kicker Mike Nugent in the second round, only to watch him get picked by the New York Jets two slots ahead of them, the Vikings wrapped up a productive draft on Sunday with a few obvious needs left unaddressed.

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The biggest one of those is at kicker, a position that's caused Minnesota many headaches since Tice took over as coach more than three years ago.

Brien, who missed a pair of potential game-winning field goals in the Jets' loss to Pittsburgh in the second round of the playoffs, is most certainly out of a job with Nugent's arrival in New York.

Rookie free agent Jonathan Nichols, who won the Lou Groza Award with Mississippi in 2003, was signed post-draft Sunday, but Aaron Elling is currently the leading option.

Elling was OK as a rookie in 2003, lost the job last August before being re-signed to kick off, and then he got hurt. "We're still looking," director of college scouting Scott Studwell said. "Maybe we've got a kicker here."

HELP WANTED?: Here's a sign the Vikings are getting better -- they had trouble filling out their roster with college free agents after the draft. Minnesota is plenty deep at several positions, like quarterback, running back, tight end, wide receiver, cornerback and defensive end, making it difficult to lure prospects even by offering more money to sign than other clubs.

"Three years ago our phones were ringing as soon as the draft was over," Tice said. "Now, nobody will return our calls."

Here's who the Vikings did sign, with a few more likely this week: Nichols, North Dakota quarterback John Bowenkamp, North Carolina State cornerback Dovonte Edwards, Southern Connecticut State linebacker Sarth Benoit, San Diego State linebacker Heath Farwell, Jackson State wide receiver Christopher Jones, Texas Lutheran tight end Matt Ross, Maryland center Kyle Schmitt, Nebraska linebacker Ira Cooper, Bemidji State return specialist Mike Nordyke, and three from Minnesota -- offensive tackle Rian Melander, cornerback Ukee Dozier and safety Justin Fraley.

RETURN MEN: Another role the Vikings are still searching to permanently fill is in the return game, where Keenan Howry enters this weekend's minicamp as the top punt returner and Kelly Campbell as the top kick returner.

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Howry is followed by Moore and Nate Burleson on the depth chart, and Campbell is backed up by Moore, Smith and Burleson. First-round pick Troy Williamson will be added to the mix as a kickoff returner.

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