Blair Walsh had a rough preseason to say the least. He went 5 for 11 on his field goal attempts and 3 for 7 kicking between 40 and 49 yards (he didn’t’ attempt any field goals over 50 yards).
His struggles have been even more amplified by the fact that the Minnesota Vikings signed Walsh to a four-year contract extension worth $14 million with $5.25 million guaranteed. That means he is getting paid as if he is one of the top 10 kickers in the NFL, but his preseason performance says otherwise.
However, as the Vikings head into Week 1 of the regular season, the coaching staff seems to be as confident as ever in their kicker.
“I think Blair’s a good kicker,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “I know he didn’t have the best preseason, but he’s thumping the ball now. The ball sounds better coming off his foot so I’m anticipating that he’ll be good old Blair.”
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer is also confident in the abilities of his kicker despite the struggles he faced in the preseason. Priefer seemed to think that most of the trouble has stemmed from the first couple misses, but he believes they have now been able to right the ship.
“I think of part of the thing, he was overthinking a lot of stuff,” Priefer said. “Anytime you have a few misses early in preseason you start over-thinking things and what we’ve tried to do is try to slow him down a little bit in terms of his approach and obviously the thought process. I don’t want him thinking as much because he’s a real smart guy. We have got to make sure he’s not overthinking things.”
A lot of the struggles that Walsh has had this season are the same type of struggles he had his senior year at the University of Georgia. A lot of people were surprised when the Vikings selected Walsh in the fifth round because of those struggles, but his rookie season in the NFL seemed to show that the team made a good decision.
Since his rookie year, however, Walsh’s performance has waned. But if Priefer was able to fix everything once before, whose to say he can’t do it again?
“Sure, he was rushing things and real long on his last step and trying to not slow him down for the whole operation, but kind of slowed his approach down, so he’s still leaving at the same time,” Priefer said. “His time should be the same, but he’s not launching himself into the kick there at the end of the approach.”
By slowing down and no longer launching, the coaching staff is hoping that Walsh’s kicks become more accurate. He has one of the strongest legs in the NFL and does not need to launch himself through his kicks, as Priefer described it, to get the distance.
In his rookie year, when Walsh went 10 for 10 on field goal attempts over 50 yards. If Walsh is able to settle down and perform like he once did, the 2015 preseason will quickly be forgotten, but if the struggles continue it will be interesting to see what the Vikings do moving forward.