Tuesday, July 28, 2015

blair walsh

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Image courtesy of Vikings.com

The Minnesota Vikings have announced a contract extension for kicker Blair Walsh.

The news comes on the first day of training camp practices in Mankato and the proactive approach means the 25 year-old 2012 draft pick will remain the team’s kicker for the foreseeable future.

“I’m extremely excited to be a part of the Minnesota Vikings moving forward,” said Walsh in the team’s announcement. “I’d like to thank Rick Spielman, the Wilf family, Coach Zimmer, Coach Priefer and Rob Brzezinski for giving me this opportunity. I’m proud to be able to stay with the team that drafted me coming out of college and I look forward to what is in store for the future of this organization.”

Image courtesy of Vikings.com

In Minnesota, it’s hard for sports fans to be optimistic. For years, they’ve watched team miss playoff after playoff, or go on to finish seasons with losing records after losing records. It hasn’t been an enjoyable run, but things seem to be getting brighter in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

At the shiny new Courts in Mayo Clinic Square, Timberwolves rookies Karl-Anthony Towns and Tyus Jones are invigorating the franchise with excitement, buoyed by the early success of second-year player Andrew Wiggins. Down the road at Target Field, minor league call-up Miguel Sano is launching home runs to help the Twins to a 45-39 record. And in the Excel Energy Center, the Wild look to make another playoff run after signing goalie Devan Dubnyk to a six-year contract last month.

But this isn’t a Minnesota Sports site — it’s Vikings Territory! How are things up in Winter Park? Most fans would say they’re great; Adrian Peterson is back, Mike Zimmer is leading the charge, and the defense is finally capable of stopping the offenses of the NFC North. Given the team’s unfortunate history, though, it’s no surprise that Teddy Bridgewater is serving up slices of humble pie, per USA Today’s Tom Pelissero:

Personally, it’s refreshing to see such a young player handle the pressure so elegantly. For many Bridgewater’s age, the limelight can be a difficult place to live, and he’s proven he’s comfortable under the stressful spotlight — or should I say, “Great Under Major Pressure”? In interviews throughout OTAs and minicamp, Bridgewater’s been deferential, heaping praise on his teammates and attributing the team’s heightened expectations to the coaching staff and front office.

Sure, Vikings fans have had it rough for years, but this may be the season our luck changes. When the time comes, we can celebrate, but for now, I’m comfortable watching Teddy operate like a pro — on and off the field.

And now, some of the most popular Vikings links from around the web!:

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An American flag flutters in the wind over the Vikings' new stadium

Image courtesy of Vikings.com

In a move expected by many, the NFL’s 32 owners approved the Competition Committee’s proposal on extra points for the 2015 season. The rule changes, which were passed on a 30-2 vote Tuesday, are as follows:

  • The extra point will now be kicked from the 15-yard line with two-point conversions remaining at the 2-yard line.
  • If the defense returns a blocked extra point or failed two-point try for a touchdown, they will be awarded two points. Under the previous rule the ball was dead on a failed try.

Blair Walsh, the Vikings’ ace fourth-year kicker, has been nearly perfect when kicking extra points — in 109 attempts, he’s missed just one kick, giving him a 99.1 career percentage in such situations. With the changes, extra points will now move to the 15-yard line, where Walsh has been nearly as successful.

In 31 career attempts between 30-39 yards (extra points are now 33 yards), Walsh has connected on 28 kicks. His leg from this distance is close to perfection, as he’s a 90.3 percent kicker in this range. When news broke of the rule changes, Walsh shared his response on Twitter:

For Walsh, the change in distance is negligible. His percentages from either distance are above average, and 33-yard field goals are routine for most NFL kickers. Defensive coaches and special teams coordinators will adjust their gameplans, scheming more “block” concepts into these plays, but I expect minimal effect on box scores next season.

If anything, the news is beneficial to players like Walsh; an increased importance on the extra point equates to an increase in value for kickers who can deliver from this range. Walsh, in turn, may enjoy a salary increase once his rookie contract expires.

For more Vikings news, check out the links below:

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Only a few days remain until the 2015 NFL Draft, so looking ahead to the 2016 free agency situation seems incredibly far away. It’s worth being aware of, however, because the Vikings have 23 players entering the final year of their contract this season.

On top of those 23, keep this in mind: 2012 first-round pick Harrison Smith has a fifth-year option in his contract, which gives the Vikings another 16 games to make any long-term decisions. According to ESPN, GM Rick Spielman has until May 3 to decide on the extra year. It seems safe to say at this point, however, that Spielman will go to lengths to keep Smith in purple, and it could be costly. The safety’s current deal is worth $7.14 million.

There will be a lot of decisions to be made regarding re-signing, restructuring, or saying “good-bye” to lots of roster members, so let’s see who will be free agents prior to the 2016 season:

OFFENSE

DEFENSE

SPECIAL TEAMS

*will be a restricted free agent

Let’s take a look at a few of the more notable players on this list…

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Which Special Teams Player will Stand Out for the Vikings in 2015?

Darren: Adam Thielen 
Thielen might be the common answer here, but as long as he keeps his place on the roster in 2015, he should make the biggest impact on special teams. He seems to be in on more special teams tackles than any other Viking and also made an impact with a blocked punt and a touchdown against Carolina last season. Minnesota could even opt to help out its secondary by dumping Marcus Sherels, which would slide Thielen into the job of punt returner, where he has flashed some skills in preseason.


Andy:
[Punter to be Named Later]
Jeff Locke has to step it up in year three or he’s gone. Yes, he’ll probably benefit greatly from kicking indoors in 2016, but the Vikings can’t wait that long. He needs to start being an asset instead of a liability in the field position game this season, or he’ll be replaced. There will be improvement at the punter position in 2015. Whether that’s because Locke’s improved (having a familiar long snapper might help if McDermott beats out Loeffler) or because he’s been replaced is yet to be determined.

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