Tice: 'I had to make a move'

Originally Published: September 1, 2004
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Bad enough that kicker Aaron Elling did little in three preseason games to inspire the Minnesota Vikings coaching staff. Worse that the incumbent, after being handed a second chance by frustrated coach Mike Tice, couldn't kick the ball straight enough in Monday and Tuesday practices to retain his job.

Aaron Elling
Kicker
Minnesota Vikings
Profile
2003 SEASON STATISTICS
FG Att PAT Att Pts Long
18 25 48 48 102 51

And so, after wavering since the weekend about the team's kicking situation, Tice finally made a switch, releasing Elling on Tuesday night and signing veteran free-agent kicker Brett Conway to a two-year contract. The roster moves became official Wednesday.

"I had to make a move," said Tice, who first suggested over the weekend that Elling was in a tenuous situation, then a day later decided to provide him one more opportunity to regain his form of 2003. "I love Aaron. He just didn't do his job. That's the bottom line in this business, and he understands that."

The decision to sign Conway, in fact, was even more surprising than the final verdict on Elling's fate. The much-traveled Conway has been often-injured throughout his career, which began when the Green Bay Packers chose him in the third round of the '97 draft. He never kicked in a regular-season game for Green Bay, however, because of a thigh injury that landed him on injured reserve for his entire rookie campaign.

That began a series of injuries that have plagued Conway much of his career. And when the Packers traded him to the New York Jets the following summer, it commenced what has become an itinerant tour through the league.

Conway, 29, is joining his sixth different team but has had repeat tenures with both the Jets and Washington. He has signed three different times with the Redskins and enjoyed his finest two seasons there, scoring 115 points in 1999 and 100 points in 2001. Those are the only two seasons during his seven-year career in which he appeared in all 16 games.

Brett Conway
Kicker
Cleveland Browns
Profile
2003 SEASON STATISTICS
FG Att PAT Att Pts Long
14 19 9 9 51 48

There is little doubt about Conway's leg strength and overall talents, but injuries have haunted him, and the former Penn State star has at least three tours on injured reserve. Still, his Tuesday audition for Vikings coaches and personnel officials was good enough to convince Tice that he was a better option than Elling at this point.

For his career, Conway has converted 69 of 91 field goal tries, including 14 of 19 in 2003 as he split time between Cleveland and the New York Giants.

"He seemed very poised in his workout," Tice said. "So, hopefully, this is another piece to the puzzle."

The slumping Elling became a puzzle and, worse, a source of irritation to Tice in the first three games of this preseason. After converting 18 of 25 field goals and all 48 extra points in 2003, Elling struggled in camp, and his problems carried over into the preseason.

The second-year veteran, who won a kicking competition last summer to earn his first NFL roster spot after bouncing around training camps for a couple of years, had converted just four of seven field goal tries in three exhibition contests. Last Friday, he was wide right on a 44-yarder and wide left on a 32-yard attempt. His only field goal conversion was on a 35-yard kick in the second quarter.

After that performance, Tice hinted he would seek a replacement and suggested he might attempt to lure all-time NFL scoring leader Gary Anderson out of retirement. But after a day of deliberation and a good night's sleep, Tice changed his mind and said he would stick with the struggling Elling for the Thursday preseason finale.

That changed Tuesday, when Elling continued a string of subpar practices and Conway was impressive in his audition.

Rather than wait to see what kickers might become available in roster cutdowns, or to make any of the trades proposed by other teams in recent days, Tice decided to make the switch Tuesday night.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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