Walsh prepping for first freezing game

Blair Walsh made the Pro Bowl in his rookie season, but he hasn't played a game in freezing conditions yet. How much will that limit his range and affect his mental approach? He talked about facing the conditions of Lambeau Field in January.

In NFL terms, being a kicker is akin to being someone who defuses bombs. A quarterback can throw a ball intentionally and be applauded. A defensive player can miss a tackle and make up for it on the next play. A kicker is sent out on a fourth down when the offense has failed to cross the goal line and asked to salvage points out of offensive drives that have stalled.

Failure is not an option, at least not a lasting one for a kicker looking to last.

That isn't easy when you are standing 50 yards away from the goal post and the uprights look like chopsticks. But, when you add in the weather element to the equation, kicking becomes even more difficult – especially when its January weather in Green Bay and you have no experience kicking under those conditions.

Vikings kicker Blair Walsh shows up at Winter Park every day looking like a version of Nanook of the North. He's unaccustomed to living in the type of cold Minnesota provides its residents. Having grown up in South Florida and playing his college ball at Georgia, he was asked if he's ever kicked in cold temperatures – defined to Walsh as below freezing.

"No, never," Walsh said. "It's going to be a big adjustment for me."

Asked what was the coldest weather he ever had to kick in, Walsh said he's breaking new ground and its come this year.

"Probably one of the outdoor games we played this year – at Chicago and Green Bay," Walsh said. "Playing in the SEC, you don't get many cold opportunities. It will be a test for me for sure."

That test will be markedly worse than what he has experienced to date. The game-time temperature at the Nov. 25 outing at Chicago was 41 degrees. A week later at Green Bay, the game-time temp was 45. On Saturday, the forecast for Green Bay calls for a high of 27 degrees and a low of 16 with a 30 percent chance of snow. As the sun goes down around 5 p.m., two hours before the game starts, so will the temperature.

The key for Walsh is going to be ignoring the elements where possible and sticking to what made him a record-setter in his rookie season and heading to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl. Walsh credits his success to those around him for making his job as easy as possible.

"My protection scheme has been awesome all year and the snaps and holds have been perfect all year," Walsh said. "I'm just going out and doing my job. They're making it really easy for me."

The Vikings attempted to give Walsh and his teammates a taste of what they will be facing Saturday at Lambeau by opening the doors on the practice facility this week and allowing the cold air to work its way into the building. There was some talk that the team might clear off the practice field and have Walsh attempt a few field goals on actual frozen tundra, but that idea was scrapped. Even the specialists will get no kicks outside, according to coordinator Mike Priefer.

Kickers hate distractions and having a warm-weather player in a cold-weather venue is a huge distraction. How do you combat it? The Kiss Theory – Keep it Simple, Stupid.

"You've got to really simplify everything you're doing," Walsh said. "Don't think about the situation or the elements or how cold it is or how miserable you feel. You have to just go out there and play ball."

Priefer said there is a fine line between giving Walsh all the information about weather and field conditions and getting into his head too much.

"Basically we'll talk more on game day," Priefer said. "So that's exactly right – we don't make it a big issue until game day. And even then we don't make it a big issue. We just have to react to it."

Asked if the cold weather will potentially shorten kicks, Walsh said there is scientific proof of that and he is aware of the difference.

"Absolutely," Walsh said. "Cold air and the density of the air definitely shortens it."

The bigger issue at Lambeau Field may well be the wind. While not as well known as Chicago for its gusty wins, Green Bay is also on the shores of Lake Michigan and the winds can come off the lake with some ferocity. The problem is that they whip and swirl through Lambeau Field. The flags on the goal posts at one end of can blow in one direction and at the same time the flags on the other goals posts are blowing in the opposite direction. Winds pick up and die quickly and keeps a kicker on his toes and, while not pulling out hair, they are pulling out turf.

"You've got to always know that in an outdoor game like that you usually throw up grass (to see where the wind takes it) a hundred times a game," Walsh said. "You're just trying to figure out which way it's going when you're ready to go out and kick. You trust your instincts at that point."

Walsh will have to change his style on some of his kicks, especially on long kicks. He will have to economize on the motion to get power from the kick without the typical indoor torque that propels the ball when it explodes off the foot and travels 150-160 feet accurately.

For many of the young Vikings, Saturday will be their playoff debut against a team that has been hardened by the playoffs. It can seem like a daunting challenge for the Vikings, but Walsh believes this is the Vikings' time and, if the game comes down to him winning or losing it, he and his teammates are ready.

"This team is fired up and we're ready to go beat them at their place right now," Walsh said. "You expect that it's going to be a close, tightly-played game. It's my job to hit field goals that can win games and I'm ready to do it, regardless of the conditions."

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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