Rookie kicker Blair Walsh showed no signs of the struggles he encountered during a portion of his senior season at Georgia. He had a flawless early OTA session. Plus, notes on the depth chart and observations from practice.
The Vikings didn't release veteran kicker Ryan Longwell without some semblance of confidence in sixth-round draft pick Blair Walsh
. The rookie showed why during Wednesday's organized team activity that was open to the media.
During a special-teams session early in practice, Walsh connected on seven field goals without a miss, ranging from 34 yards to 43 yards. On the final two kicks – from 42 and 43 yards – he had at least 10 yards to spare.
"When it comes to kickers in today's NFL with the way the kickoff rule is and with what we're doing with field goals and extra points, it's still the way you measure kickers," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "We just felt like we needed some other things at that position that might help us to win some games."
The Vikings also introduced a mobile kicking apparatus in which the uprights are about one-fourth the distance apart from normal uprights, the idea being a narrow focus and having more precision in practice.
For his career, Longwell was an 83 percent field goal kicker. Last year, he hit 78.6 percent, the worst percentage since he joined the Vikings in 2006.
Frazier didn't get into specifics of releasing Longwell, but he said there were numerous conversations before the move was made.
"We had a lot of conversations leading up to when we made the decision that we were going to draft a kicker and why we were going to draft a kicker, so there were a lot of conversations that went into it," Frazier said. "Ryan has been a great player for us for a number of years. He's an outstanding person, as you know. It wasn't a flip of a decision. We gave it a lot of thought and a lot of consideration over time and after we did our homework and our research, we really felt like it was the right thing to do."
Frazier said the Vikings have no plans to bring in another kicker for competition at this point. The more reps for the rookie Walsh, the better, despite a strong showing this week.
This is the time of year when lineups are often shuffled in practices, but here are a few depth-chart observations from this week's session open to the media:
Brandon Fusco was getting the first opportunity at right guard and Joe Berger was filling in for John Sullivan at center. Sullivan was absent from Wednesday's voluntary practice, joining Jared Allen and Chad Greenway as veterans who missed the session.
Fusco was also getting some work as the second-team center. Also on the second-team offensive line were left tackle DeMarcus Love, left guard Chris DeGeare, right guard Geoff Schwartz and right tackle Pat Brown.
Filling in for Allen at right defensive end was Everson Griffen. Letroy Guion, as expected, was paired with Kevin Williams inside on the first-team defensive line, with left end Brian Robison holding down his starting spot.
Without Greenway, who missed practice while tending to a family matter, 2011 undrafted rookie Larry Dean was taking reps with the first-team defense at strongside linebacker. Jasper Brinkley was the starting middle linebacker, as expected, next to weakside starter Erin Henderson.
Despite Antoine Winfield being open to a reduced role in the defense, he remained the starting left cornerback while Chris Cook started on the right side. Brandon Burton and Chris Carr were the second-team cornerbacks. Zack Bowman, Josh Robison and Marcus Sherels also figure into the cornerback rotation.
The starting safeties at the end of last year, Jamarca Sanford and Mistral Raymond, were the first-team safeties on Wednesday, but rookies Harrison Smith and Robert Blanton are expected to challenge for those spots.
NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS
WR Jerome Simpson came as advertised. He looked both fast and speedy and should be an immediate upgrade for the perimeter passing game.
Percy Harvin did conditioning drills with Adrian Peterson, but early in practice Harvin was catching passes from the quarterbacks while the rest of the receiver group was going through individual drills.
Emmanuel Arceneaux had the light-hearted moment of practice when he was pushed out of bounds while playing a gunner on punt coverage and ran over a college referee who wasn't paying attention.
Former defensive coordinator Fred Pagac and former head linebackers coach Mike Singletary continue to work together with the linebackers. Pagac is now the lead linebackers coach after Alan Williams was hired as the defensive coordinator.
Wide receiver Greg Childs attended practice but didn't participate.
Toby Gerhart was the first-team running back with Peterson out. Gerhart was wearing a brace on his knee, but it didn't appear to be limiting him too much. Gerhart suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in the season finale but didn't need surgery.
Running back Jordan Todman, claimed off San Diego's practice squad last year, looked like the quickest of the bunch in the backfield.
Christian Ponder was easily the best of the quarterbacks during full-team passing work. He completed all three of his passes in the first series while Joe Webb completed one, took a touch sack from Burton, underthrew Bryan Walters and nearly had one intercepted by Josh Robison. Sage Rosenfels completed a checkdown pass, was nearly intercepted by Reggie Jones and had a throwaway. McLeod Bethel-Thompson took a touch sack from Fred Evans and muffed the center-quarterback exchange.
Ponder was intercepted during seven-on-seven drills on a deep pass intended for Devin Aromashodu. Chris Cook made that diving interception near the sideline. Ponder was picked off later in the session by Bobby Felder, but it appeared Ponder's intended receiver ran the wrong route.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.