Through his first two seasons, Vikings kicker Blair Walsh was about as close to automatic as field goal kickers get. He has only missed seven of 68 field goal attempts and three of those were bombs of 50 yards or more. When the Vikings send Walsh out to attempt a field goal, almost every time he has left by putting three points on the board.
However, when the Vikings finished their last home preseason game against Arizona, Walsh wasn’t happy. In fact, he was downright angry. He got into a heated exchange with long snapper Cullen Loeffler – a boil-over from a brutal game in which he missed two field goals and a long extra point. The frustration was shared because expectations are that he never misses and when the misses came in bunches, it was hard to control his temper.
“Any time you don’t make kicks, you’re angry about it,” Walsh said. “We missed two long kicks and one of the experimental extra points. I was mad at the time because that isn’t what we do. I think we’ve bounced back nicely – I think we made the nine field goals – so I took a positive from that.”
Since that time, Walsh has been perfect – connecting on nine straight field goals that helped the Vikings finish the preseason undefeated. The reason his outburst in the Vikings locker room following the Arizona game was so pronounced was because the kicking unit has been having the best offseason in terms of accuracy and execution that he’s had in his three years as a Viking.
“The reason it was so frustrating was that our execution had been as good as we had seen it all during the spring,” Walsh said. “Timing, protection, everything was there, so when that happens and a kick doesn’t go in, it’s frustrating.”
One of the hallmarks of a great player is that he can make the difficult look effortless. When something looks so easy because it is consistently executed with near-flawless precision, people get the idea that anyone can do it. But Walsh is quick to point out that several things can go wrong on the way to making a field goal.
The snap can be off line. The holder can bobble the snap. The field can be slick or have a divot in the spot. Weather can be a factor. One missed block can send a defender with a free path to the ball. What looks so simple to the naked eye is actually a pretty complicated procedure.
“There are a lot of moving parts to it,” Walsh said. “I know it seems very simplistic – just put the ball through the uprights – and to an extent it is. But there are a lot of moving parts on each kick – the snap, the hold, the protection, the situation in the game, the wind, the footing. There’s a lot of stuff that goes into it and my job is to simplify all that and make the kick.”
Walsh refused to put the blame on his misses with the unfamiliarity with TCF Bank Stadium. He, Loeffler and holder Jeff Locke had gone down to The Bank a handful of times on their own over the past few months to get the lay of the land. Just as it takes an adjustment for kickers at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field because the wind swirls in through the open end of the stadium, the Bank has its own nuances that Walsh and the specialists are learning on the fly.
“We’ve taken a few field trips down there,” Walsh said. “There isn’t anything too tricky, it’s just being comfortable in that environment. I think that’s the biggest thing is getting used to our surroundings because we play outside now instead of inside. There are a lot of little things like how sunlight and shadows come into play. Things you wouldn’t even think about inside that you have to now account for.”
Walsh believes some good came out of the emotional dust-up he and Loeffler shared after the Arizona game. It was simply a matter of mutual frustration that things could go so poorly – not just once but three times in the same game. What that lack of execution did was get the field goal team back on point on making sure they execute the fundamentals and the results have been obvious since then.
Kicking field goals is much more difficult than it looks – that’s why good kickers tend to have long NFL careers. As the Vikings start playing games where winning and losing counts against their record, Walsh and the field goal unit will be a key components. Perfection is expected and that’s a cross Walsh is willing to bear.
“I guess it’s nice that they expect perfection,” Walsh said. “It’s a little unrealistic, but it’s part of the job description. They’re going to expect you to do your best because you’re paid to do this and are expected to perform at a high level.”
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 worked out kinks after emotional moment
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