Billy Cundiff Looks To Fill Longwell's Shoes

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When Ryan Longwell signed with the Minnesota Vikings on March 11, that acquisition meant the Packers would have a new kicker for the first time in nearly a decade.

And that burden now falls on Billy Cundiff, signed on March 27, to replace the Packers' all-time leading scorer with 1,054 points.

"I definitely take it as a challenge," Cundiff said. "I know what (Longwell) did, and his accomplishments are very significant. But now it's time to kind of show what I can do."

Cundiff can boom both kickoffs and field goals. He nailed more than 44 percent of his field goals beyond 50 yards during his career and helped the Dallas Cowboys lead the league in opponent's kickoff return average in 2004. Last year he nailed a 56-yard field goal in Texas Stadium in Week 11, farther than Longwell's career long of 54.

"My leg strength is an upside," Cundiff said.

Another strong point for Cundiff should be his ability to withstand Lambeau Field's wintry conditions. Dallas -- his team for the last four years -- does not typically feature tundra-like environs. But while growing up in Iowa and playing collegiately at Division I-AA Drake (located in Des Moines, Iowa), he kicked through several snowstorms and temperatures that dropped below 20 degrees.

"It's something that just I grew up accustomed to," Cundiff said.

In some ways Lambeau actually could provide better kicking conditions. The grounds of his college's 18,000-seat Drake Stadium sometimes featured clumps and divots.

"We were kicking off a field that was kind of beat up," Cundiff said. "They didn't really have a lot of money. So the field that I played on wasn't really the best field, and conditions weren't always ideal."

Not far from his Iowa home and his Midwestern roots, Green Bay's location was a major reason why Cundiff signed with the Packers. Green Bay is only a seven-to-eight hour drive away from his hometown of Harlan. (For the record the town did not name itself after Packers president and CEO Bob Harlan.) Cundiff also has friends in Chicago and a brother in Minneapolis.

"I wanted to get back to the Midwest," Cundiff said. "It's closer to my family."

Cundiff chose the Midwestern team over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Other clubs expressed interest in Cundiff, but the free agent derby came down to a battle of the Bays -- only Green Bay and Tampa Bay made contract offers. Viewing Cundiff as a more cost efficient replacement for their incumbent kicker and unrestricted free agent Matt Bryant, the Buccaneers signed Cundiff before the NFL established a new collective bargaining agreement.

"It was a money thing," Cundiff said.

When the NFL owners agreed to a new deal on March 8, each team received more 2006 salary cap space, and the Buccaneers could afford to retain Bryant. Cundiff, however, remains content with the way things worked out.

"I ended up coming here where they were happy to have me," he said.

Cundiff was not a hot name during the offseason, but his stock may have been down following his injury-shortened 2005 season. He tore his right quadriceps in training camp and missed all but six of the last seven weeks of the season. During those games Cundiff only hit five-of-eight field goal attempts, and the Cowboys released him before the last game of the 2005 season.

Now completely healthy, Cundiff, however, could represent a strong investment in the future for the Packers. He is only 26-years-old but has five years of game experience. Cundiff never redshirted in college and started for the Cowboys immediately after leaving Drake, winning a training camp competition as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2002.

To have such experience at a young age is rare. Kickers often take a circuitous route before finding their niche in the NFL. Consider Mike Vanderjagt, the kicker the Cowboys signed to replace Cundiff. The owner of the NFL's longest consecutive field goals streak, Vanderjagt is one of the best kickers to ever play the game. But the 36 year-old bounced around the CFL for five years before entering the NFL.

"Sometimes it just takes the right combination ... whatever that combination is, you never really know until you find it, and things just click," Cundiff said. "I happened to make it right away."

As a result the Packers likely will start a kicker with the unique combination of experience and potential.

"I'm going to continue to get better," Cundiff said. "I definitely don't think I've reached my prime. I still think that I'm a little ways off. I've got a lot of room to grow."

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