“It kind of lit a fire under him. He was a little bit, got ticked off in a good way I think, because he’s a competitive young man,” special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said. “When you bring in guys that are potentially going to take your job, guys that want your job, he’s a competitive guy and that’s the way you want him to react. If he didn’t react that way I would be really worried and then we probably would be looking for another guy.
“He got, I don’t want to say angry, but he got a little fired up in a very respectful way. Just like he is, he always is. I expect him to go out and kick well for us this weekend and the rest of the year.”
Walsh has missed four field goals this year, including a blocked one on Sunday, and three extra points, including one that hit off the right upright in the 22-16 overtime loss to the Detroit Lions.
On Tuesday, the Vikings had six kickers in for tryouts, including veterans Randy Bullock and Kai Forbath. None of them was signed, but the Vikings are hoping Walsh responds positively with solid games in the future.
The reality is that, while Priefer liked the way that Walsh responded to the tryouts, only time will tell if the tryouts were enough to get Walsh back to being a reliable kicker.
“I wish I could say I have an idea, but I don’t,” head coach Mike Zimmer said when asked how he thinks Walsh will respond. “But I do know this kid is pretty confident in his abilities and he wants to prove a lot of people wrong. That’s part of it, too. Some of the kickers that I’ve been around, a lot of them have had tough situations and been released or things like that. Sometimes when things get tougher it makes them compete a little bit more.”
Walsh has publicly stated after bad games that he remains confident in his abilities. But after missing a 27-yard field goal with 22 seconds left that would have given the Vikings a 12-10 lead in the opening round of last year’s playoffs – a game they lost 10-9 – Walsh has struggled at times this year, leading some to wonder if that playoff miss continues to haunt him and affect his kicks this season.
Priefer said he doesn’t think that’s an issue and said Walsh had a good offseason of work. But there is clearly a difference between the pressure of games and working in practice.
“I think a lot of it is probably mental. He is a confident guy, but sometimes if he is not kicking exactly right in pregame or maybe his practice week wasn’t great, then that’ll be in the back of his mind,” Priefer said. “What I’ve tried to preach to him the last couple weeks especially is, ‘Hey, just relax. It’s like your rookie year again, you’re just going out and having fun, you’re in the NFL.’ He’s a fine, fine kicker. We all know that because his track record has shown that he is a very good kicker. I think he needs to relax and be confident.”
But if confidence is an issue and the Vikings planned to stick by Walsh this week – Priefer said the kickers brought in did well in their tryout – then it’s fair to wonder if his confidence would be damaged more with competition close behind.
“That’s a good question. At the end of the day, when you do bring these guys in, you react in one of two ways. It’s going to be, ‘Hey, I’m fired up.’ Or, ‘I’m in the tank, they don’t love me anymore, I’m going to get cut,’” Priefer said. “If he’s going to feel sorry for himself, then he’s not the guy that we want. Like I said, we knew the type of guy Blair was and is. We knew that he would react in that way, that he’d be fired up and ready to go.”
Walsh’s field goal accuracy of 75 percent is 24th in the NFL among those with multiple kicks this season, but he and San Diego’s Josh Lambo are the only ones with three missed extra points.
“The thing is, when the three-technique messes up, no one sees it. When the kicker messes up, everyone sees it,” Zimmer said. “That’s the big thing. The guy has missed three extra points. I can probably get 10 guys that screwed up three points this year. We all make mistakes. I think the guy is a very talented guy.”
Despite Walsh’s blocked field goal and missed extra point, the Vikings were able to get a 16-13 lead on Sunday with 23 seconds to play when they scored a touchdown and Walsh hit that extra point. But on the ensuing kickoff, the Vikings wanted Walsh to place the ball between the 5- and 10-yard line (he was kicking off from the 50 after being run into on the extra point try). Instead, Walsh kicked the ball into the end zone for a touchback, leaving the full 23 seconds on the game clock and the Lions starting from the 25-yard line.
Detroit went 35 yards in four plays and Lions kicker Matt Prater sent the game to overtime with a 58-yard field goal as time in regulation expired.
“Any time we kick from the 50, or almost any time, we want to give our coverage an opportunity to pin them inside the 20,” Priefer said. “But not only that, with 23 seconds left and they have no timeouts left, we waste five or six seconds, I think the ball game is over. So to me, that was a huge mistake on our part.”
But the Vikings are sticking with Walsh, at least for now, despite the kicker tryouts they hosted on Tuesday.
“He wants to keep his job. Having that fire in your belly is kind of always there. When reality sets in and there’s six guys that come in who want to take your job, I think it’s a different story. Kind of grows exponentially at that point,” Priefer said.
“The talent is there, he’s got to put it together. Go out there and be a confident young man that we know he is. We’ve got his back; the team has his back. The head coach and general manager have his back. It’s on him now. He’s got to go out and perform.”