It is widely regarded as the best thing to have at any given position this time of year, but the Vikings have none at the kicker position and do not plan on bringing any in.
The Vikings drafted Georgia kicker Blair Walsh in the sixth round of April’s NFL Draft, subsequently waived veteran Ryan Longwell, and it appears that the team’s Special Teams Coordinator could be tying his fate to that of his new rookie kicker.
Mike Preifer had a number of conversations with Walsh at the Scouting Combine, he put Walsh through a pre-Draft workout, and watched a lot of film. According to Judd Zulgad, Preifer thinks he knows why Walsh missed those 14 field goals as a senior and wants to coach this kid into a premier NFL kicker.
“He was rushing every kick,” Priefer said of Walsh’s senior season. “Every kick he missed, he hit them well, but he was much too fast with his get off time. I don’t know if that was what he was coached to do, maybe that’s what he wanted to do. Usually you watch the ball get snapped to start (the) approach. I have him watching the holder’s hands. When the holder lifts up his left hand, that’s when he’s going. That’s what I’ve been coaching for years.”
“You’re not giving the holder time to even give you a good hold and that’s another part of the deal,” continued Priefer. “You want to make sure that the holder can get it down, on the spot with the laces, with the tilt that he wants. He couldn’t get that last year when he goes too fast and even here we’ve had to slow him down a little bit. I don’t mind him being slow right now in that we can get him back up to where we need him by the season.”
According to Zulgad, Walsh made 14 of 15 field goal attempts during the Wednesday and Thursday minicamp sessions.
“Every situation they’ve put me in has been good,” Walsh said of the practices. “We did some last-minute situations last week and we executed them well.”
Walsh also seems plenty open to suggestions from Preifer and understands the pressure that is going to be placed on him at the NFL level, both on the field and from a business standpoint.
“Football is a pressure-packed sport,” he said. “Especially being a kicker. There are certain instances where you’re the only guy on the field that’s performing at that certain time. Whether it be a kick or a (point-after attempt). But it’s a pressure situation and if you’re not ready to handle it you probably shouldn’t be playing. You’ve got to enjoy it and realize that it’s still a game and while it’s very important you’ve still got to have fun with it.”
“Ryan (Longwell) left big shoes to fill, that’s for sure,” Walsh said. “I’m just trying to come in here and focus in on what I’ve got to do for game one and go on from there. Those two guys have been great helping me. They’ve been professional about it like I expected they would. They couldn’t have handled it any better.”
So, does Preifer think that handing the job to a rookie without any competition is the right way to go about this?
“I think competition is a great thing to be honest with you,” Priefer said. “I don’t mind competition, but I think with what we’re trying to accomplish with Blair and the chemistry between Cullen, Chris and Blair, to me, is extremely important. If we had another kicker in camp, I think you’re going to share that a little bit. I don’t think he’d be worried about the competition. I wouldn’t be worried about competition because he’s been very successful kickoff-wise. He’s got a big-time leg. I wanted to make sure that field-goal wise we have the chemistry between those guys rolling even before we got to camp. I think we’re doing a good job in that respect.”
So, in this case, the team is aiming for chemistry over competition. That is not the conventional way to go about things at this point in the offseason, but it is hard to argue that it makes sense…
After all, the job was pretty much Walsh’s to lose from the moment his name was announced in April, and that hasn’t changed.