This spring, as Blair Walsh was trying to get his groove back and Kai Forbath was gearing up for an offseason kicking competition in New Orleans, the two took turns booting balls at UCLA during their now-annual workouts with Jeff Locke and Kevin McDermott.
Months later, after Walsh never regained it and was waived by the Vikings, Forbath — who had been out of work since September — got the call to replace Walsh on Tuesday morning.
“It actually is pretty crazy,” Forbath said Wednesday. “We train together every offseason — me, Jeff, Blair and Kevin. That’s like our little group in the offseason. It’s a tough business and I’ve learned it. And it’s too bad he’s having to go through it now, too.”
Walsh missed his NFL-high fourth extra-point attempt in Sunday’s 26-20 loss to the Washington Redskins. That came a week after he missed another extra point, had a field-goal attempt blocked and botched a late kickoff in the 22-16 overtime loss to the Detroit Lions.
Walsh, who never bounced back after his infamous playoff miss in January, made only 12 of his 16 field-goal attempts this season and 15 of 19 extra-point tries.
“It was just something we felt like we needed to do, kind of move forward,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “We’re all accountable for the things we have to get done, and I think we gave him a lot of opportunities. Although, Blair’s a great kid, and it was hard to do.”
He said it simply comes down to doing your job, a sentiment echoed by some teammates.
“I’m sad for the guy, but at the end of the day this is a business and you have one job to do. And you’ve got to do it. And that’s the bottom line when it comes to a kicker,” left guard Alex Boone said. “Sometimes, they’re scrutinized when they shouldn’t be and there’s pressure situations. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to make those kicks.”
In five seasons with the Vikings, Walsh, a sixth-round draft pick and an All-Pro in 2012, made 84.2 percent of his field-goal attempts. That ranks 11th among active kickers.
Forbath, meanwhile, kicked them at an 84.1-percent clip during his four NFL seasons.
Forbath, who in 2009 won the Lou Groza Award as the top kicker in college football, signed with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted rookie in 2011. But he was beaten out for a job by fellow rookie Dan Bailey, who went on to become a Pro Bowl kicker for the Cowboys.
Forbath spent the 2012 offseason with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but did not make the team there, either. That October, the Redskins signed him to replace Billy Cundiff. Forbath’s first career field goal was a 50-yarder in a win over the Vikings. He went on to make the first 17 field-goal attempts of his career, which at the time was an NFL record.
Forbath made 87.1 percent of his field-goal attempts, including a pair of walk-off winners in overtime, during his Redskins career. But they released him after he missed a 46-yarder in their 2015 opener, in part because they felt his leg wasn’t strong enough for kickoffs.
Forbath said Wednesday that his comfort level with kickoffs is much greater now than it was in Washington, because Locke was the one who handled kickoffs during their days at UCLA.
Forbath finished 2015 with the New Orleans Saints, missing four of 13 field-goal tries. The Saints released him after this preseason. He remain unsigned until this week. He had spent the past two months at his alma mater, staying in shape and mentoring their kickers.
Last Tuesday, after Walsh’s miscues loomed large in the loss to the Lions, Forbath was one of six kickers the Vikings worked out at Winter Park. He said that after the workout, the Vikings indicated they wanted to hold out hope for Walsh to bounce back for a little bit longer. But a week later, on Tuesday morning, Forbath was told to pack his bags for Minnesota.
Zimmer said his familiarity with his fellow specialists was a factor in the Vikings choosing Forbath over the other five kickers who worked out at Winter Park last week.
Like Locke, the Vikings punter who doubles as the holder, and McDermott, their long snapper, Forbath played at UCLA. The three were teammates from 2008-10. McDermott was the backup snapper for the Bruins, so he only snapped for Forbath in practice. But the three of them stayed in tune during those offseason workouts together back at UCLA.
“It’s nice to have that familiarity, especially with a quick change like this,” McDermott said. “We’re all familiar with each other and our routines, so I think it will be an easy transition.”
McDermott is looking forward to again working with Forbath, who he said is accurate with “a good leg.” But he feels for Walsh, whom he called one of his best friends for life.
“It’s not always a business that is kind. I’ve had it happen to me. I spent my rookie year in San Francisco and then was let go in final cuts before my second year,” the snapper said. “It’s vicious sometimes. It’s really hard to see people go through it. But he’s going to get an opportunity somewhere else and I believe he’s going to be successful in the future.”
Forbath also feels for Walsh. But he realizes this is another opportunity to find a home in the NFL. And having experienced what Walsh is going through, he isn’t going to take it for granted.
“I’m just here to take it one kick at a time and hopefully be here a long time,” Forbath said.