Tuesday, August 4, 2015

blair walsh

Photo courtesy of Jason Barum
Photo courtesy of Jason Barum

Vegas to Minneapolis to Mankato all in the matter of a few hours (Okay, maybe like six or seven). Running on an hour of sleep right now but there is no place I’d rather be.  I have to be honest with you… Standing on that field just a few feet away from all these incredible athletes was pretty surreal. Hard to be objective and analytical when you’re stuck just trying to take it all in.

Nevertheless, I did jot a few notes down (below). I’ll be back out on the field for the afternoon practice in just a few hours and will report back then. In the meantime, if you haven’t already, follow me on Twitter where I’ll be providing updates. Also, Arif’s Twitter List of training camp coverage is a great resource to be current with what’s going on. Plus, all those guys are pros. I’m just a rube who’s starstruck during his first training camp experience.

A couple of notes from the morning walk through:

  • Josh Robinson did not participate in the morning’s activities. Robinson was taken out of practice a couple of days ago as a precaution when dealing with a hamstring related injury. Defensive Coordinator George Edwards was unwilling to provide an update on the status of Robinson’s injury and deferred to Zimmer on the issue.

This isn’t normally the time of year when we have a lot to discuss regarding the Vikings.  With a new coaching staff comes plenty of intrigue and speculation, however, and we have plenty of items to read about this week.

Check them out and let them know who sent you:

 

We know that rookie punter Jeff Locke had very little time to interact with Chris Kluwe before Kluwe was released by the Vikings, and also had very little time to see special teams coordinator Mike Priefer interact with Kluwe.  Blair Walsh, who just finished his second season with the team, did spend a full season working with Kluwe and was presumably around during some of Kluwe’s alleged scenes of verbal abuse and bigotry.

Both Locke and Walsh, however, stood by their coach following Kluwe’s allegations posted at Deadspin.

Locke took to Twitter to lend his support.

“In my short time with the Vikings,” he wrote, “Coach Priefer has treated me with respect and has helped as a player and person.  I have never witnessed any actions or statements by Coach Priefer similar to those described in the recent Deadspin article.

As transcribed by Kevin Seifert at ESPNWalsh was a little more combative with his words, and it looks like he may be a tad upset with his former holder.

“I have had countless conversations and interactions with coach Priefer, and I personally can attest to his integrity and character,” Walsh said in a statement he released directly to reporters. “His professionalism in the workplace is exemplary, and I firmly believe that my teammates would whole-heartedly agree. The allegations made today are reprehensible and totally not compatible with what Mike Priefer stands for. …

“In my time here at Minnesota, Rick Spielman and Leslie Frazier have exemplified true leadership. Contrary to Chris’ statements, they have promoted a workplace environment that was conducive for success. At no time did I ever feel suppressed or that I could not be myself.

“I firmly stand behind Rick Spielman, Leslie Frazier, and Mike Priefer.”

Some will aplaude Kluwe’s bravery for posting the article and exposing his coach.  Others will say Walsh and Locke were brave for standing up for their coach despite certain criticism from a significant portion of society.  The debate is sure to be emotional and heated.  Kluwe, however, reiterated on Thursday night that he is not worried about the fallout while talking with Chip Scoggins at the Star Tribune.

“It’s one of those things where this is what happened,” he said.  “I realize there will be people that say, ‘This is just sour grapes. He’s upset that he got cut.’”

 

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It is widely assumed, and for really good reason, that Vikings punter Chris Kluwe will be released following the fifth round investment the Vikings made in UCLA rookie punter Jeff Locke.

Kluwe was not the first punter shown the door, however, as it was T.J. Conley that was cut before ever even practicing once with the team.  Despite his very brief stay in Minnesota, Conley went out of his way to say some nice things on his way out.

The Vikings waited about eight days after drafting Blair Walsh last year before releasing veteran kicker Ryan Longwell. The move coincided with Walsh showing up to the rookie minicamp healthy, able, and willing.

Rookie minicamp begins at the end of this week and, at that point, the Kluwe watch will be in full force.

[Note:  Want to see a list of every player featured in our “Draft Target” segment?  Click here to visit the Offseason Tracker where there will be a list of all these players.  Check back often as there are plenty more to come!]

If you haven’t guessed by this point in the offseason, yes, I have a sneaking suspicion that the Vikings might proactively look towards the NFL Draft to replace veteran Chris Kluwe before the final year of his contract is played out.  In my profile of Louisiana Tech punter Ryan Allen I talked about Kluwe’s high salary, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer’s comments about Kluwe’s exhaustive off field endeavours  and also just the possibility of finding an upgrade at the position.

Since writing that article I have become even more convinced (keep in mind now, this strictly irresponsible speculation Adam talking, not news reporting Adam) that Kluwe’s cap hit could be reason enough for his early exit.  The team currently has about $4.4 million in cap space, which is not likely to even be enough to sign their entire Draft class, let alone sign a guy like Antoine Winfield to a new contract on top of that.  That means something has to happen, and while Kevin Williams or Jared Allen could still be candidates to change their contract status, finding an upgrade to Kluwe in the Draft and exchanging his $1.4 million salary for a rookie deal might just make too much sense.

The key to all of this, however, is finding a rookie that can be a clear upgrade to Kluwe like the Vikings found at kicker last year with Blair Walsh.  I’ve already talked about how I think Ray Allen is that guy but may require a very high level of investment from a draft pick standpoint.  This is actually a fairly talented and fairly deep punter class, but outside of Allen only one other guy really stands out as an excellent prospect.

LSU’s Brad Wing (6′ 3″ and 184 pounds) is unlikely to relieve Priefer of all drama on his squad, as he comes with a bit of a history.  Wing is Australian born (do I even need to continue?) and, thus, has a brazen attitude and a tendency to find himself a “good time.”  Its okay, I can say stuff like that, my best friend is an Aussie.

He first became noticed on a national level when he… a punter, mind you… nullified his own 52 yard touchdown run on a fake due to taunting the opponents prior to crossing the goalline.  In his defense, as the video evidence shows, it was kind of a weak call.  His troubles didn’t stop there as he was suspended for the Chick-Fil-A Bowl due to breaking team rules, and at least one unconfirmed report said it was substance related, and there have been rumors of other off-field incidents plaguing the young talent.

Wing became the first punter to declare early for the NFL Draft, he was a redshirt sophomore in 2012, since Chris Gardocki did it way back in 1991 and he certainly has the leg to justify such a move.

Wing started 24 games at LSU after playing just one year of high school ball as an exchange student.  He was second in the SEC with a 2011 punt average of 44.4 yards and last ranked 12th in the nation with a 44.8 yard average.  He occasionally unleashes ridiculously powerful punts like his 73 yarder against Alabama in 2011, eight more career punts of 60 yards or greater.

Perhaps even more important, however, is the talent he displays for directional punting.  He has explained that his ability to do this with such proficiency comes from another game in another hemisphere:  Australian Rules Football.

“You can score from any angle and distance so there’s a lot of kicks I’ve gotten used to over the years where the American kickers they just kind of stand there and kick it as far and high as they can,” Wing said in 2011. “That’s not my mindset. I’m just trying to kick it away from the return man. Coming over to America, I didn’t really understand why punters kicked to the return man.”

As of that article, dated January 6th, 2011, Wing had amazingly punted the football 50 times and LSU had only allowed six (yes, six) punt return yards in total.  That is pretty amazing, really.

Now, maybe having Tyrann Mathieu on the coverage squad had a lot to do with that, because LSU’s overall punting game was quite as dominant in 2012, but Wing still was a cut above most punter prospects in most respects.

The question for NFL teams is whether or not they will be able to depend on Wing to stay out of trouble and be available on a weekly basis.  The last thing an NFL team wants to do is use two roster spots on punters because the first one couldn’t stay smart.  Without knowing how teams truly view Wing’s character it is impossible to predict where he will be selected.  He is talented enough to be a third round pick, but is troubled enough to go undrafted.

If he starts to fall on Draft weekend, and the Vikings are intrigued enough, then he might just be a solution to a problem that is only one year away from being a significant one.  For some NFL team’s fans, he will surely be one of the most intriguing players to watch in training camp.

 

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