Of all the woes that have plagued the Minnesota Vikings this season, perhaps the one that caused the front office the most consternation was the decision to pull the plug on kicker Blair Walsh.
After setting NFL records for distance field goals as a rookie, Walsh’s struggles became well-documented. He would go through awful stretches and, this season, it seemed as though a game couldn’t go by without a missed extra point or field – he had four of each through nine games.
When the Vikings felt that Walsh wasn’t going to correct the problem and the coaches were starting to lose faith that he could get the job done, they had to make a move and released Walsh and signed Kai Forbath.
It’s never easy for a player to come into a new locker midstream in the season, but Forbath, a UCLA graduate, had the benefit of coming to a team that had a long snapper (Kevin McDermott) and a holder (Jeff Locke) that not only were fellow Bruins but spend the offseason back on their old campus working out together.
So far, it’s been so good for Forbath, who has made all six of his field goals since arriving. He credits his comfort level with being around familiar faces and the transition has been smooth.
“I find myself when I go out there, with the training we’ve done in the offseason, feeling so comfortable with them – knowing that the snap and hold will be there,” Forbath said. “It’s been nice getting off to a good start and I’m just taking one kick at a time and keep it going.”
It’s never ideal for a player to come to a new team midseason. The players are all familiar with each other and the acquisition is the new kid in town. But this isn’t Forbath’s first experience being the new guy. He had to do it in Washington and New Orleans, so having a couple of guys he knew and other fellow UCLA players around to make him feel a little more at ease in his new surroundings helped.
“Unfortunately, this isn’t my first time doing this,” Forbath said. “I’d say this year has probably been the easiest transition because I already knew a few guys here. It’s been a smooth transition.”
The problem with being an outsider coming into a locker room is that everything is new and unfamiliar. Finding a route to the team facility requires GPS for a couple days. Locating the simplest of things – grocery stores, shopping malls, etc. – takes time.
But, when your new job is in the NFL, there isn’t a lot of time for settling in. You hit the ground running and have to perform almost immediately and failure will be met with unemployment.
“Everything happens so quickly,” Forbath said. “You come in midweek and you’re playing a few days later. Just getting situated and feeling like your home. It’s kind of nice here, because I finally found an apartment I’m staying in and it’s starting to slow down a little bit now and I’m starting to feel more comfortable.”
The biggest advantage Forbath has coming to Minnesota is that he’s in the climate-controlled U.S. Bank Stadium. He kicked at TCF Bank Stadium once while with the Redskins and hated it because of the tricky wind conditions.
Being inside for at least half of his games is a bonus for a kicker. Being outside can be a kicker-killer. It takes a special kicker to be able to handle the winds at Heinz Field or Soldier Field and Forbath is glad he didn’t get a call to a stadium where every game could potentially be an adventure.
He feels lucky to be kicking indoors, but the stadium he didn’t like kicking at may be a little surprising – his old home field.
“It’s great to be in an indoor stadium – any kicker would say that,” Forbath said. “To be honest, Washington was pretty tough. Being at home wasn’t always the best for me. The turf wasn’t great. They had trouble growing grass because it got cold. I had a good run there. They gave me my first shot, so I’ll always remember that, but it was not the easiest place to kick.”
If Forbath can keep up his current pace, there is no reason to think that he wouldn’t enter the offseason program as the incumbent. Could the Vikings end up being a long-term home for a kicker whose M.O. to date has been “have foot, will travel?”
Forbath sure hopes so.
“We’ve got a great group of guys here,” Forbath said. “I’ve been working with Kevin and Jeff in the offseason, so we’ve got a good shot at hopefully keeping this going for a while.”