Tuesday, July 26, 2016

blair walsh

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most important players
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

This time of year, with the Scouting Combine just wrapping up and the Draft rapidly approaching, we spend a lot of time focusing on the future. The Vikings are coming off an 11-5, division championship season, and look to be firmly headed in the right direction. So, before any draft picks or free agency additions, I thought it was a good time to look at the future within the organization. Below is a countdown of the 10 most important players to the Vikings’ future:

(NOTE: This list only includes players currently on the team’s roster. It takes into account skill level, positional importance, age, contract, and the team’s investment in the player. It’s more than a list of best players; rather, it focuses on who will be counted on to play major roles in the next five to eight years if the team is to continue to compete for division championships and playoff berths. For example, a player who is talented and productive but approaching the end of his career would be given less consideration than a young, high draft pick who has shown good ability in a short time.)

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Mike Zimmer named one of NFL's Most Influential
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Mike Zimmer has long been respected by NFL coaches. Now, after he led the Vikings to an 11-5 record and a division championship, the national media are starting to catch on. Peter King’s The MMQB has named him one of the NFL’s 100 Most Influential People of 2015. Zimmer came in at #65 on the list, the 10th highest rated head coach.

Gary Grambling of The MMQB writes of Zimmer:

It took too long for someone to hire Zimmer as a head coach. Now he’s showing why he deserved the job. In his second season, he took the Vikings to an NFC North title, its first since 2009.

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Vikings 2016 Offseason Plan Part 1

[In part one of this three-part series, Austin Belisle and Brett Anderson team up to put together an in-depth offseason plan for the Minnesota Vikings.]

Blair Walsh lined up to kick a 27-yard field goal, a routine chip shot that would’ve won the Minnesota Vikings their first playoff game in nearly seven years. But the ball didn’t sail through the uprights; it veered left, and just like that, the team’s promising 2015 season was over. Visions of Mike Zimmer hoisting the Lombardi Trophy faded from memory as an exasperated fan base watched in disbelief. “How could he miss that kick?”

Lost in the heartbreak was the fact that the Vikings didn’t just exceed expectations in 2015 — they shattered them. Minnesota entered the year as a darkhorse playoff contender, a young team that flashed promise in 2014 and would only get better with the return of Adrian Peterson. They did, winning 11 games and snatching the NFC North title from the Green Bay Packers for the first time since 2009. With a mix of young talent and veteran leadership, the Vikings emerged as one of the league’s surprise teams last year.

Their success started in the offseason, where general manager Rick Spielman assembled one of the NFL’s deepest, most talented rosters. Rookies like Eric Kendricks and Stefon Diggs became immediate contributors, while second-year free agent acquisitions like Captain Munnerlyn and Linval Joseph elevated their respective games to new levels. In order to take the next step in 2016, the franchise will need to continue its steadfast approach in free agency and the annual NFL Draft.

But in order to do that, it’s critical the team establishes a clear vision. Every organization’s ultimate goal is the same — to claim a Super Bowl victory. Some, like the Vikings, may be closer than others like the Cleveland Browns or Tennessee Titans. Regardless, each begins a new season with a 0-0 record. It’s the path they take that separates them.

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Special Teams Player of the Year
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Vikings Territory asked, and the readers spoke; in this series of articles, the team will announce the winners of our fan-voted awards, from the Minnesota Vikings’ MVP of 2015 to the Rookie of the Year. Today, a look at the Special Teams Player of the Year, as voted by you, the fans.

Blair Walsh, K — Minnesota Vikings

One play doesn’t define a game, a season, or even a career. Despite missing the game-winning field goal against the Seattle Seahawks earlier this month, Blair Walsh put together one of the best campaigns of his short tenure in the NFL. Even before the year began, the front office expressed confidence in their kicker, signing Walsh to a four-year, $14 million contract at the start of training camp.

He failed to deliver early on, especially in the preseason. While battling a nasty case of the “yips,” Walsh went just 5-of-11 in exhibition games and struggled to connect on the new, 33-yard extra points. His first attempt of the year was a miss against the San Francisco 49ers. He missed a field goal against the Denver Broncos in a game that was ultimately decide by three points. And then, the misses stopped.

Over the next four games, Walsh was a perfect 13-for-13, averaging nearly 40 yards per field goal. In two of those games, he drilled game-winning kicks against the Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams. The pressure to perform didn’t seem to weigh on Walsh, and that’s the same mentality he’s taking into 2016.

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PFWA All-Rookie Team
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

General manager Rick Spielman’s reign at the head of the Vikings’ draft room began in 2012, when he famously selected Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder with the 12th pick in the first round. Though that decision was an ultimate failure, Spielman has been largely successful in acquiring college talent. Three of his latest draft picks — Eric Kendricks, Danielle Hunter, and Stefon Diggs — were named to the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) All-Rookie Team on Tuesday morning.

Spielman’s rookie classes have produced eight players on the annual list. Kendricks, Hunter, and Diggs became the first trio to make the team since Matt Kalil, Harrison Smith, and Blair Walsh did so in 2012. In 2013, Cordarrelle Patterson was added to the roster as a kick returner. The following year, Teddy Bridgewater was honored for his solid rookie campaign as the Vikings’ starting quarterback.

Before the 2015 season began, ESPN’s Ben Goessling reported that 39 of the team’s 53 players had “seen all of their NFL snaps for the Vikings.” The continuity illustrates Spielman’s reliance on the draft and conservative approach in free agency. If the Vikings are going to build a roster, they’re going to do it from within Winter Park.

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