Sometimes, a player getting a chance to clear his head and recharge his batteries over a bye week is the best medicine to cure what ails him.
When the Minnesota Vikings had their bye week two weeks ago, kicker Blair Walsh went back to his roots – the University of Georgia – to get in some extra work and go back to basics in familiar surroundings.
“It was nice,” Walsh said. “I got away and went down to my college and kicked a little bit at my old facilities. It was good for me to hit some balls away from here and refresh my game. I think it helped.”
It wasn’t something he had worked out with the Vikings. He went on his own, looking to get back the vibe that he carried into the NFL and his record-setting rookie season with the Vikings.
He was working on his technique and felt that being back to his home away from home for the four years before he got to the NFL would help, hoping the familiarity of the UG campus would bring back the confidence that had been waning as he struggled during the preseason and early portion of the regular season.
“I was just out there – no coaches, no cameras, nothing – just sort of back to basics and just ripping the ball,” Walsh said. “I kicked there for four years in college and that’s how I treated it.”
Through his early struggles, he has received the unwavering support of his coaches and teammates. At no point was his job ever seriously in jeopardy. Even when he missed a field goal at Denver, Adrian Peterson came up to him on the sideline and told him that the team would need him later in the game and not to get down on missing the kick.
He didn’t missed a kick in the next game following the bye, but he isn’t viewing his game as being all the way back to the form that he has become accustomed to. As he was struggling, he said his mindset was to treat every kick as its own entity and, in the process, he would string several field goals together, regardless of distance.
Although he has seemingly turned a corner for the positive, he isn’t ready to rest on his recent success.
“You can’t be complacent because you have a good game and shut it down,” Walsh said. “You’ve got to continue to work hard and you have to realize that just as easily it goes the right way, it can go the wrong way. You try to think of the positives and try to continue to be a mentally tough kicker.”
Nobody has been more frustrated with his inaccuracy than Walsh himself. The expectation for kickers is that you make every kick you attempt. There is very little room for failure, especially in an era where every aspect of an athlete’s life is open to scrutiny and debate.
During his struggles, Walsh has been trolled mercilessly by anonymous avatars on social media, but, over the years, he has formed a thick skin, part of the mental toughness he has developed along the way of being a kicker for a big-time college program and later in the NFL.
What has taken to heart are the words of encouragement, not the scathing indictments coming from those who rip him apart 140 characters at a time.
“There are so many great fans here,” Walsh said. “You have to realize that the people who are willing to say that to you on social media are a small percentage of actual real fans. I appreciate Vikings fans and I know who the real ones are.”
Coming off his best game of the season, in which he was responsible for 10 of the Vikings’ 16 points in a 16-10 win, Walsh is hoping that his trip back home to the friendly confines at the University of Georgia will be the start of something big as the Vikings look to make a push toward the playoffs.
He has tried not to get too down when he misses or too confident when he gets on a roll. He’s fully aware that the time is going to come with a game on the line that he can help provide the points that win the game. That is how he is approaching kicking these days – going back to the basics and not getting caught up in what happened in previous games or previous kicks within games.
“At the end of the day, one game – good or bad – isn’t going to define your work,” Walsh said. “I’ve been working hard to be prepared for any situation that comes to you because you’re being counted on to come through when you’re called on. It’s an ongoing process and I’m feeling like I’m mentally strong and things are working for me.”