Was there any doubt Blair Walsh had enough leg when his right cleat boomed a 51-yard field-goal try Saturday night?
Just ask his good buddy — the left goalpost.
End over end, the kick tumbled through the air toward the uprights, thudding off the top half of the left goalpost before falling flat into the end zone.
“That’s always frustrating when it hits the post, because the post is your friend,” Walsh said.
After successfully hitting 12 consecutive field-goal attempts from 50 yards or more to start his career — including an NFL-record 10 in a row as a rookie — Walsh has missed the mark from way downtown. Last season’s trend has carried over into this preseason, but he insists the frustration he feels right now is minimal.
He did not convert his final three 50-plus-yarders last season and is 0-for-2 in the preseason after plunking the left upright in the first half of Saturday night’s 30-28 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.
Walsh, who also missed a 33-yard extra point wide left, brushed aside a question about the latest long-range misfires, pointing out that the preseason is the time for kickers to work the kinks out.
“You want to put it together, and preseason is kind of an extended audition of what you’re doing in practice,” Walsh said. “I think that’s what was frustrating about it for me, is that those two long misses, I’ve been making them all during training camp. And so you want it to translate to the [games].”
For now, coach Mike Zimmer is also unconcerned with the two long misses, which included a 53-yarder against the Oakland Raiders that sailed wide right. Walsh is 4-for-6 overall in the preseason.
“He’s been great in practice, and he’s been great previously,” Zimmer said. “I expect him to make those kicks, and I’m sure he will.”
Walsh made 35 of his 38 attempts during his All-Pro rookie season. Last season, he was successful on 26 of his 30 tries, missing only one from inside 50 yards.
Still, the three misses from beyond 50 yards irked him, so this offseason he made a point to practice 50-yarders “a lot more now,” saying that as NFL kickers have become more accurate, “there’s a premium on them.”
With that in mind, Walsh often switched from cleats to running shoes, shedding 8 to 10 pounds in the hopes of becoming more explosive and avoiding injuries like the tweaked left hamstring that nagged him throughout much of last season.
Walsh made both of his attempts from beyond 50 yards before the injury, which prevented him from practicing long field goals as often as he normally would have. After the injury, he missed all three of his attempts from long range, including a 57-yarder in overtime in the Week 13 loss to the Chicago Bears.
Walsh said that his new physique has increased his range on field goals, allowed him to recover quicker between kicking sessions and helped him boot more kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks.
In limited kicking in 11-on-11 situations during training camp in Mankato, Walsh looked more like the 2012 version of himself. He also drilled a 70-yard field goal during pregame warmups Saturday night and has a 70 percent touchback rate through two preseason games.
“I think by me being in better shape it’s going to make me stay strong throughout the entire season and not fall off at any point,” the 24-year-old said.
Walsh, along with long snapper Cullen Loeffler and punter and holder Jeff Locke, practiced at TCF Bank Stadium at least three times during the spring. They charted the winds and made a map to determine which way the winds would blow depending on the weather. They also tried to gain a familiarity with the FieldTurf surface the Vikings paid to have installed at their temporary home.
Despite doing all that research in the hopes of outsmarting Mother Nature this fall, Walsh said he was not overthinking things while lining up for the two long field-goal attempts during the preseason, especially because there was not much of a breeze either night. He simply chalked the misses up to minor technical flaws.
Walsh, who shares the franchise record for the longest field goal with Paul Edinger after hitting from 56 yards in 2012, believes those flaws will soon be corrected for the games and feels he will be just fine kicking outdoors in 2014.
“I feel confident that by the time the regular season rolls around, we’ll be ready to go,” he said.