By Chad Courrier
---- — When the Minnesota Vikings drafted punter Jeff Locke back in April, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer got on the phone right away.
His first call was to veteran long-snapper Cullen Loeffler.
"He just said, `look, you're the leader,' " Loeffler said. "I felt like we did some great things on special teams last year, and it was up to me to help the young guys. Last year, I kind of started to take the role as a leader, just like other guys had helped me out when I was younger."
You might not think that a long-snapper can be the leader of the football team. You might also think a long-snapper can't last 10 years in the NFL.
Loeffler has proved you wrong. Twice.
"I think his personality is such that people look up to him a little bit," Priefer said. "He is only going to give advice when asked; he is not one of those pushy types of guys.
"He leads by example; he has great work ethic, a great attitude. I make it a point to ask him questions during meetings, so guys can hear him speak."
Loeffler has the second-most tenure on the Minnesota Vikings' roster, behind only 13 years by defensive tackle Kevin Williams. Linebacker Chad Greenway has been with the team for seven seasons, and running back Adrian Peterson and defensive end Brian Robison are both entering their seventh season in Minnesota.
He said that when he was new in the league, veterans Ryan Longwell and Darren Bennett were there as mentors, to answer his questions about football and other aspects of being a professional.
"I was fortunate to be around great players," he said. "You need to have someone show you the right way to do things."
His experience is important this summer because he's working with a young punter/holder and second-year kicker Blair Walsh. The three are often working at an adjacent practice field, honing technique and chemistry, and they do a lot of stuff together away from practice.
Though he can't kick or punt, he can answer questions about situations that come up in a game.
"When things start getting out of line, I get them back in line," he said. "I've played the longest, and I've had enough time in the league where I've seen almost every situation. I'm not there to coach but to help them analyze the situation."
Locke said he's leaned heavily on Loeffler, who was an undrafted free agent in 2004, as he makes the transition from college to pro. Locke asks a lot of questions, not just about football but things like where is the best place to live.
"He's such a big influence, and I think Blair would tell you the same thing," Locke said. "He's not going to yell at you, but he leads by example with his work ethic and he encourages you.
"Off the field, he's been through it all, and he can tell you where he messed up and the things he did right."
Loeffler has survived by working hard and not making mistakes. Priefer said he's never seen Loeffler make a bad snap, which would be one that doesn't hit the target, but there have been a few "less than perfect" snaps.
"He leads the way by his work ethic and example," Priefer said. "He never complains, just comes out to work every day, every practice and gets his job done."
Loeffler said it's amazing how fast his first nine seasons have gone, with the daily grind sometimes overshadowing each season. He said he's never had a snap that caused a failed punt or kick, but he's not always happy with the crispness or location of the ball.
Whatever he's done, it's turned into a nine-year career that he takes one game at a time.
"I'm really excited that I've been able to stay with the same team the whole time," Loeffler said. "When you're in the routine, it seems like the season really drags, but then you see that nine years have gone by a lot faster than I expected."