Ryan Longwell has been the Vikings kicker since 2006. Every year he has faced competition to keep his job, but 2012 will mark the first time he's competing against a player the Vikings drafted. On Saturday, the Vikings signed Georgia kicker Blair Walsh with their sixth-round draft pick.
The Vikings know quite a bit about Walsh, and special teams coach Mike Priefer has made it a family affair in terms of scouting the young kicker.
"Coach Priefer coming to work me out and I played under his dad at the East-West (Shrine) Game," Walsh said. "I knew he was very interested. He's a great coach and I'll be happy to play (for) him."
Walsh has a big leg – he has a career-long 56-yard field goal and, in his career, he has made 10 field goals of 50 or more yards. However, his draft stock took a pretty significant hit in 2011.
After making 40 of 45 field goals in 2009-10, including six of seven from 50-plus, he made just 21 of 35 attempts last year, which Walsh said he compounded once the misses started coming.
"My senior year didn't go the way I wanted it to," Walsh said. "Early on in the season, I missed a couple of kicks and starting to press a little bit. I'm my own worst critic. I just wanted to be there for the team and help the team out. I felt I got it back on track around the middle to end of the season. I learned from it and I think I'm a better man and a better kicker for it."
Walsh said he is familiar with Longwell and has been impressed with what he has seen and what he has heard about the Vikings kickers. He knows it won't be easy to unseat the popular veteran, but is ready to give his best in hopes that the Vikings' youth movement will extend to the kicking game.
"I know a lot about Ryan Longwell," Walsh said. "He's been a mainstay of the Minnesota Vikings for a long time. I think he's a great kicker and I think he's an even better guy from what I've heard. I look forward to the opportunity to meeting him and competing with him."
Whether Walsh will push Longwell for his job or potentially be used as a kickoff/long distance field goal specialist is unclear, although the Vikings have never used two roster spots for kickers. He said he would have a hard time speculating as to what the plans are because, after going through the grind of the pre-draft workouts, he doesn't know what to expect.
"As I have learned from this whole experience, nothing is really surprising anymore," Walsh said. "You think that teams that were in the running aren't there anymore and some teams end up drafting other guys. It always changes. The NFL is a fast-moving league and players' careers don't seem to last too long anymore. So I don't know if you can pressure Ryan. I just know he's a great kicker and I'm excited to compete with him."
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.
Walsh knows challenge of unseating Longwell
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