Adjustments could be key for Vikings' rookie kicker Blair Walsh
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - Mike Priefer had done his homework.
As the Minnesota Vikings considered selecting Blair Walsh in the April draft, Priefer did his best to learn whether the Georgia kicker could assume a high-pressure role in the NFL.
Priefer, the Vikings' special teams coordinator, had several conversations with Walsh at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, he went to Athens, Ga., to put Walsh through a workout, and he studied plenty of film.
And when he was all done, Priefer came to the conclusion that Walsh could serve as the replacement for veteran Ryan Longwell. The Vikings took Walsh in the sixth round, and jettisoned Longwell shortly thereafter, despite the fact Walsh missed 14 field goals last season as a senior.
Priefer, however, thinks he knows the exact reason why Walsh had problems with accuracy.
"He was rushing every kick," Priefer said. "Every kick he missed, he hit them well, but he was much too fast with his get off time. I don't know if that was what he was coached to do, maybe that's what he wanted to do.
"Usually you watch the ball get snapped to start (the) approach. I have him watching the holder's hands. When the holder lifts up his left hand, that's when he's going. That's what I've been coaching for years."
Altering Walsh's mechanics has been an ongoing process this offseason and it continued through Thursday as the Vikings wrapped up the third and final day of their mandatory minicamp at Winter Park.
Walsh made all seven of his field-goal attempts Thursday after making seven of eight attempts from between 28 and 42 yards on Tuesday, with the miss going wide left from 40 yards. Walsh also missed wide left from 35 yards into a stiff wind in a "last-second" situation on Tuesday.
"Every situation they've put me in has been good," Walsh said. "We did some last-minute situations last week and we executed them well."
Walsh knows the pressure will be on him as a rookie - especially with Longwell having been released -- but he welcomes the challenge. The Vikings have no plans to bring in any competition for Walsh, so the job is his to lose.
"Football is a pressure-packed sport," he said. "Especially being a kicker. There are certain instances where you're the only guy on the field that's performing at that certain time. Whether it be a kick or a (point-after attempt).
"But it's a pressure situation and if you're not ready to handle it you probably shouldn't be playing. You've got to enjoy it and realize that it's still a game and while it's very important you've still got to have fun with it."
Walsh seems to have welcomed the adjustments suggested by Priefer saying, "Since I got here, I've been tweaking a bunch of stuff and just slowing down my approach to the ball. I was a little too fast last year."
Priefer explained that Walsh was rushing kicks by 2/10th or 3/10ths of a second, which doesn't sound like much but is a big deal.
"You're not giving the holder time to even give you a good hold and that's another part of the deal," said Priefer, who called Walsh a very coachable player. "You want to make sure that the holder can get it down, on the spot with the laces, with the tilt that he wants.
"He couldn't get that last year when he goes too fast and even here we've had to slow him down a little bit. I don't mind him being slow right now in that we can get him back up to where we need him by the season."
Said Walsh: "My talents and my abilities helped to get me here so obviously we're not making huge wholesale changes. But there's always room to grow. Whether you've played one year in the league, or you're a rookie, or you've played 15 (years), there's always, always room to grow."
Priefer said the Vikings aren't planning to bring in competition for Walsh not because they are afraid he will fail, but because they want the rookie to get as much work as possible with holder Chris Kluwe and long snapper Cullen Loeffler.
"I think competition is a great thing to be honest with you," Priefer said. "I don't mind competition, but I think with what we're trying to accomplish with Blair and the chemistry between Cullen, Chris and Blair, to me, is extremely important.
"If we had another kicker in camp, I think you're going to share that a little bit. I don't think he'd be worried about the competition. I wouldn't be worried about competition because he's been very successful kickoff-wise. He's got a big-time leg. I wanted to make sure that field-goal wise we have the chemistry between those guys rolling even before we got to camp. I think we're doing a good job in that respect."
Walsh appreciates the fact that Kluwe and Loeffler have proven to be helpful, especially given the fact those two had spent so much time working with Longwell.
"Ryan left big shoes to fill, that's for sure," Walsh said. "I'm just trying to come in here and focus in on what I've got to do for game one and go on from there. Those two guys have been great helping me. They've been professional about it like I expected they would. They couldn't have handled it any better."