The list of accomplishments for rookie kicker Blair Walsh is long, but the process of getting him to the point of leading the league started before he was ever drafted by the Vikings.
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer didn't wait until the Vikings selected Walsh in the sixth round to start correcting his timing. Priefer began that process during a predraft visit to see the kicker out of the University of Georgia.
"Mike had said after working with the kid and adjusting some things just on one workout that he thought this kid could be a unique kicker in this league," said Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, who took Priefer's advice and drafted Walsh.
"By going out to do that (workout), one, you see if the kid is coachable or not and, two, when he did adjust it, was he more accurate than what we've seen in college in his senior year? We felt very confident that we would be able to work with this kid and get it figured out. And that he does have a lot of confidence in his ability."
As a senior at Georgia, Walsh made only 21 of 35 field goal attempt, hardly NFL-worthy based on the raw percentage. But Priefer saw a flaw in Walsh's approach that he believed could be corrected and put Walsh's accuracy more in line with the 20-for-23 performance he had a junior.
"He just doesn't want me going too fast and the get-off times being really, really fast. That's a problem," Walsh said of Priefer. "I think it's just what we had to do and just slow down the overall approach to it."
Walsh said some other teams made similar suggestions when they put him through a workout before the draft, but not all of them. Still, since that was the general consensus he figured it was the right approach.
It has paid off. His .958 field goal percentage (23-for-24) is the highest among kickers with more than 20 attempts this year. Others have missed only one field goal, like Walsh, but he has more attempts, 24, than any of those other kickers. He is also one of only two kickers to go 5-for-5 from 50 yards or more.
Walsh entered the weekend of games fourth in scoring among kickers with 90 points, the most of the rookie kickers.
"We made those adjustments early in the spring and we knew by training camp he would be ready to roll," Priefer said. "He's a very self-confident young man, but not in an arrogant way. You've dealt with athletes your whole career, how there is a lot of false bravado. There's no false bravado with Blair. He's a very confident guy in his abilities, but he's also humble enough to look back and say, ‘You know what? If I don't have a good day in practice or a poor kickoff and a missed kickoff in a game, what do I need to go back and correct it?' And that's what he's been willing to do and willing to listen to. He has the ability to look at himself and judge himself in a critical way."
Walsh proved that by taking the advice of coaches and scouts before he was ever employed by the same company as them. He said his approach to the ball is "a little bit slower and more consistent."
Priefer said he has been impressed with the consistency more than the big leg he knew Walsh had.
"It's not surprised me that he's done well on field goals and kickoffs, because I think that was the big question mark that people besides me had about him was can he do it field goal wise as well. I guess the biggest surprise would be his consistency on both kickoffs and field goal. I think he's been a real consistent guy," Priefer said. "I'm real proud about it, the way he's progressed."
Walsh is second in the league with 41 touchbacks, which is already a franchise record, and is poised to break the Vikings rookie scoring record of 106 points held by Randy Moss. Walsh now has 90 points with six games to go in the regular season.
Spielman is the one who pulled the trigger on the non-traditional move of drafting a kicker in the sixth round, but he credits Priefer with doing the homework and making the right assessment.
"Priefer went out and personally worked these kids out and spent the day with them because we wanted to get to know them as a person as well. Is the kid coachable? After spending some time with him, does he have confidence? All that stuff, that ties into what our psychologist said," Spielman said.
"I rely on people that are experts in their area. Can you get this corrected or is this something that you don't think is correctable? And he was very adamant."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Working with Walsh started before draft
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