Nationals

Vikings punter Kluwe tries to snap slump

Vikings punter Kluwe tries to snap slump

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) Chris Kluwe still has his day job. He just hasn't been doing it as well as he and the Vikings would like.

Minnesota's outspoken punter has a gross average of 43.8 yards per attempt this season. That ranks only 24th in the NFL among those with enough tries to qualify for the leaders, putting him on the edge of the bottom quarter of a hyper-competitive league where the difference between losing and winning is often measured in inches.

The eighth-year veteran even got booed by the home crowd in his last game, when a 20-yard shank went out of bounds following a three-and-out by the offense to give Tampa Bay the ball at its 42 in the first quarter and set up a field goal.

Because of the increasing profile Kluwe has kept off the field with his activism on behalf of gay marriage rights, suggestions have come from frustrated or skeptical fans that he's not focused enough on his punting. Kluwe did his best this week to take that theory like it was a ball snapped to him on fourth-and-long and boot it down the field inside the 5-yard line.

``I'd be more worried about someone who spent 24 hours a day thinking about solely one subject. It's not a sign of great mental health,'' Kluwe said. ``When I'm here at the facility, football is the only thing I'm focusing on. That's what I'm here for. And when I'm away from the football facility, I have a life. I do other things.''

Minnesota has a constitutional amendment on this year's ballot that defines marriage as between one man and one woman. Kluwe, a straight, married father, has become one of the loudest voices of the ``vote no'' campaign. He has written countless essays posted on all kinds of websites and conducted television interviews with seemingly every network in the nation about his stance.

Kluwe already had a higher profile than most punters because of his quirky nature, past criticism on Twitter toward authorities like NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and his role as the bassist in a local alternative rock band called Tripping Icarus. Given the wide coverage the marriage amendment debate has received around the state, the Vikings' punter has gotten a lot of attention for speaking up.

The team brought in a handful of free-agent punters this week for tryouts, part of the normal process every team goes through to have updated scouting reports on prospects available in case they're needed. Their presence at Winter Park didn't necessarily signify growing concern about Kluwe's performance, but a reminder that players in this league can be cut at any time.

``It's part of the job. If the team doesn't think you are performing up to standard then they'll bring someone else in and do what they need to do,'' Kluwe said. ``I'm going to approach it the same way: go out and try to have the best game I can. Hopefully I do.''

The Vikings play at Seattle on Sunday. There's no indication they're actually considering making a punting change.

``Chris is a pro. He'll figure this out,'' coach Leslie Frazier said.

Gross average isn't always the best way to gauge punters, since teams need them to pin kicks near the goal line sometimes rather than send them as far as possible. Kluwe, though, has only ranked below 15th in the NFL in gross average once in his previous seven years. He was 25th with a 42.3-yard average in 2006.

Last season, he was 13th at 45.7. In 2008, when coach Brad Childress angrily threatened to cut him after he didn't kick two punts out of bounds that Reggie Bush returned for touchdowns in a game in New Orleans, Kluwe was fourth in the league at 47.6.

Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer has noticed Kluwe rushing his kicks recently and failing to drop the ball consistently in the right place at the right rate. Those slight mechanical adjustments can have a big impact.

``He's got to come out of his funk a little bit. He hurt us the other night. He knows it,'' Priefer said, adding: ``I know he'll come back from that. He's going to have a great week this week.''

Priefer, like Frazier, expressed no concern about Kluwe's commitment to his primary occupation.

``That's a good question, but the only thing I've focused on this week is how we're going to beat Seattle,'' Priefer said. ``The other stuff? I don't care.''

NOTES: WR Percy Harvin missed practice Thursday because of what Frazier called a personal matter. The coach said Harvin should be back Friday and able to play Sunday. ... TE John Carlson still hasn't been cleared to practice after his concussion. ... RB Adrian Peterson was disappointed his beloved Oklahoma lost last week to Notre Dame, which counts no less than five former players on the Vikings roster. ``Rough week for me and my pockets,'' Peterson said.

---

Follow Dave Campbell on Twitter:http://www.twitter.com/DaveCampbellAP

---

Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Quick Links

Is Juan Soto a lock for National League Rookie of the Year?

sotogood.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Is Juan Soto a lock for National League Rookie of the Year?

In April, it would have been unfathomable. In May, it would have been laughable. In June, it would have been improbable. In July, it started to look possible. In August, it might even have been likely. Now, it’s a complete toss-up.

Juan Soto is the worthiest National League Rookie of the Year. So is Ronald Acuna.

It’s one of the most exciting rookie races in recent memory, not simply for the otherworldly numbers each freshman sensation is putting up, but for just how good they are at such young ages. Juan Soto is a jaw-dropping 19. Acuna, by comparison, is the wizened veteran at the old age of.. 20. 

The two are preternaturally talented, and their mature-beyond-their-years games have translated perfectly well to the big leagues. The question now is: which one will actually take home the hardware?

(Before we continue, I’ll note that Jack Flaherty, Brian Anderson, and Walker Buehler are all very talented young players who would at least be in the conversation in normal years).

The first step is to look at the numbers.

On the season Acuna is slashing .287/.347/.571, and his wRC+ is 144. He’s got 19 home runs and 8 stolen bases in just 68 games and his fWAR is 2.3. bWAR has him at 2.8

Soto’s slash line is currently .293/.420/.534, to go along with 15 home runs. His wRC+ is 153, and his fWAR is 2.7. His bWAR sits at 2.2.

Obviously, the numbers are terrific for both. Acuna has been up longer, but thanks to injury Soto has actually played 8 more games. Acuna has the edge in power, both in home runs and slugging percentage, plus he’s clearly the speedier player and better defender. If you’re looking for all-around game, he’s probably your man. Plus, for those who care about such things when voting on awards, the Braves are several games ahead of the Nats in the standings.

However, Soto’s performance has a couple things going for it. First of all, as impressive as it is that Acuna is taking the league by storm as a 20-year old, Soto is nearly a full year younger. It cannot be overemphasized how wild it is what Soto is doing as a teenager. He may very well be the greatest teenage batter in baseball history.

Secondly, Soto has been incredibly consistent. He’s basically been an All-Star level hitter since the day he was called up in May, whereas Acuna’s numbers, while very legitimate, are buoyed by his recent hot streak. He’s hit 8 home runs in 8 games, and of every hitter with at least 100 plate appearances since the All-Star Game, he has the highest wRC+ in that span. He’s had plenty of valleys to his peaks, though, and Soto has been a model of consistency. Of all hitters with at 200 at-bats this entire season, Soto ranks 7th over the entire season, That’s astounding.

Another point in Soto’s favor is just how historic his numbers are. Voters love a narrative, and as mentioned above, Soto is having literally the best offensive season a teenager has ever had. The highest wRC+ by a 19-year old in baseball history in Mel Ott with a 140 exactly 90 seasons ago. Soto is beating that by 13 so far.

The true separator, though, is Soto’s on-base percentage. His .420 mark is a comfortable 4th of all players with at least 300 plate appearances, behind elite batting eyes Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Joey Votto. And, once again, we’re talking about something historic.

Soto’s .420 on-base percentage, if it holds, will be the only OBP over .400 for a teenager with 200 plate appearances in Major League history. In fact, outside of Ott’s .397 in 1928, no other teenager has ever reached base at a .360 clip, let alone Soto’s astronomical .420.

Ultimately, I believe more in Acuna’s future, but I think Soto’s been the better player this season. Acuna is more well-rounded, but Soto’s elite batting eye has made him a top 10 hitter in baseball already. If Soto had been up on Opening Day and played at this level, he’d be on pace for a 5.5 WAR, which would top even Bryce Harper’s 2012 season.

As mentioned, voters love a narrative though, and if Acuna comes back from his injury and stays as hot as he’s been all August, it’ll be tough to ignore his performance during the Braves’ stretch run. This award is not over, but for now, Soto should be considered the favorite.

MORE NATS NEWS: 

Quick Links

Need to Know: Redskins stock up, stock down after Jets game

Need to Know: Redskins stock up, stock down after Jets game

Here is what you need to know on Friday, August 16, seven days before the Washington Redskins host the Broncos in their third preseason game. 

Talking points

Here are some players who saw their stock go up during tonight’s preseason game against the Jets and others who experienced a stock drop

Up—Rookie nose tackle Tim Settle had himself another big game. The difference this time was that most of his snaps came against the Jets starting offensive line as opposed to the Patriots’ backups he saw last week. He mauled ex-Redskins center Spencer Long a few times and he moved over to tackle in a four-man front to generate some pass pressure. He is still learning. 

Down—Backup center Tony Bergstrom was physically manhandled a couple of times, making things difficult for Colt McCoy, some running backs, and Kevin Hogan. He also committed a flagrant holding penalty that negated a good Hogan run for the first down. His roster spot does not appear to be in any danger, but he has to do better.

Up—Cornerback Danny Johnson had some pressure dropped on him when the team cut Orlando Scandrick, moving Johnson from roster long shot to a player who may have to be counted on. He played well, making a key play in the second quarter. On third down, he made a good tackle to stop a third-down play short of the sticks. He knocked the ball out of the runner’s hands, but a quick whistle negated the turnover. 

Up/Down—Wide receiver Cam Sims had some wild swings. In the second quarter, he was open in the red zone and McCoy put a perfect pass into his arms. But the ball popped out and was intercepted. Turnovers will get rookie free agents cut. Sims made up for it later in the game with a key third-down catch later in the second quarter. Later, in the last seconds of the game, he pulled in a 20-yard pass to set up Dustin Hopkins’ game-winning field goal. In between, he grabbed a touchdown pass between two defenders, but that play was negated by an illegal formation penalty. 

Down—You hate to see a player’s stock go down due in part to an injury but that’s what happened with Byron Marshall. Even though he is OK, he left the game early, opening the door for Kapri Bibbs, his main competition for the fourth roster spot at running back, to have a good night. Bibbs caught seven passes for 47 yards. Before he left the game, Marshall put the ball on the ground on a kickoff return. Although replay showed that he was down by contact before fumbling it was close enough to cause concern. The competition for the fourth running back spot is tighter now than it was before the game. 

Up—Rookie safety Troy Apke had three tackles and he picked off a fourth-down Sam Darnold pass. Deshazor Everett gets an assist on the pick as he batted the pass up in the air. Apke is still has a lot to learn before he makes the transition from being a fast guy to being a good NFL player. 

Down—Linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton had a chance to make a key third-down sack of Teddy Bridgewater that would have killed a fourth-quarter drive. But he went to the ground and missed the sack and Bridgewater made the completion to keep the drive alive. Hamilton gets credit for getting into the backfield, but he didn’t seal the deal. 

Bureau of statistics

Here are two preseason stats with the caveat that they are preseason stats. 1). In the first halves of their two preseason games with both sides playing mostly their first- and second-team players, the Redskins have outscored the opposition 26-6. 2). The Redskins have 216 rushing yards through two games. Last year they rushed for 103 yards in their first two preseason games. 

Trending on social

The agenda

Today: Off day

Upcoming: Preseason Broncos @ Redskins (Aug. 24) 7 days; Final cut (Sept. 1) 15 days; Season opener @ Cardinals (Sept. 9) 23 days

In case you missed it

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page,Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS and on Instagram @RichTandler