Vikings don't plan to provide any competition for rookie kicker
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn., -- When Blair Walsh first heard he had been selected by the Minnesota Vikings with their sixth round draft pick in April, the 22-year-old kicker foresaw himself competing behind 16-year veteran Ryan Longwell.
But the Vikings had other plans.
They opted instead to release Longwell, ending his six-year stint with the team, and by doing so give their full backing to Walsh.
The move left Walsh ecstatic about the opportunity, but humbled and understanding of the sizeable expectations that he will be facing as both Longwell's successor and a rookie starter.
"It feels awesome coming here and getting a vote of confidence from the Vikings," Walsh said after the conclusion of the team's second day of Organized Team Activities on Wednesday at Winter Park.
"Ryan is a great kicker," Walsh said. "I'd have loved to come in here and play with him and I wish him the best. I grew up watching him and emulating him, so it'll be big shoes to fill here for sure."
Walsh will face the expectation that he can inject new life into a position that saw a slight decline last season. Longwell amassed 633 total points in six seasons with the Vikings, placing him third all-time in team history. But in 2011 he missed six of his 28 field goal attempts, posting the third-lowest percentage of his career, 78.6.
Longwell's progression toward the twilight of his career, paired with a desire to save on payroll, drove the Vikings to take a heavy gamble by drafting Walsh.
"We had a lot of conversations leading up to when we made the decision that we were going to draft a kicker and why we were going to draft a kicker," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "It wasn't a decision that was a flippant decision. We gave it a lot of thought and a lot of consideration over time and after we did our homework and our research we really felt like it was the right thing to do."
Despite a lackluster senior season, the Vikings saw enough from Walsh in his three years with the Georgia Bulldogs, and from an impressive showing at the NFL scouting combine, to garner handing him control of the team's kicking duties.
Walsh, who is noted for his top-tier leg strength, stands as the Southeastern Conference's all-time scoring leader, with 412 career points and 76 field goals. The Vikings looked past his rocky 2011 season in which he made only 21 of 35 field-goal attempts, focusing on the fact Walsh has a strong leg.
Frazier confirmed that the Vikings went into the draft knowing that if they drafted a kicker it would mean parting ways with Longwell. However, Walsh said he was given no indication after he was selected that he would immediately jump to the top of the depth chart.
Even with his sudden ascension to the No. 1 spot, Walsh says his approach hasn't changed from where it was immediately following the draft.
"I think my mentality coming in was that I wanted to come in and compete and obviously become successful and become the starting kicker for the Minnesota Vikings one way or another," he said.
"Having a vote of confidence from them is awesome, but it does not mean anything. There are 31 other guys in this position that are really, really good. I just want to be another one of those guys."
And he will have plenty of chances to do so.
Frazier insists that, at the moment, the Vikings have no plans to bring in another kicker to challenge Walsh in training camp. It is firm sign that Walsh's tenure is well underway.