Elam enjoying best ever training camp

Updated: August 22, 2003, 1:56 PM ET
By By Darrell Trimble | NFL Insider
There once was a time when people who kicked a football for a living were considered second-class citizens in the NFL -- a nuisance, a necessary evil. But now that the salary cap has eaten away at teams' depth, the importance of good special teams has elevated their importance.

Games have always been won or lost by kickers, but teams like the Dallas Cowboys under Jimmy Johnson were so good that they could win with poor production from the position. Coaches are now more aware that having bad special teams can cost them a job.

That's why the Carolina Panthers tagged punter Todd Sauerbrun as their franchise player and why the New England Patriots signed Adam Vinatieri to a three-year $5.3 million deal that is one of the rare guaranteed deals in the league.