Figuratively speaking, Mike Zimmer opened Wednesday’s news conference by throwing his red challenge flag.
On Monday, the Vikings coach went public with plans to audition kickers while giving the strong indication that the team’s patience with Blair Walsh had expired after two key misses in an overtime loss to Detroit brought his total to seven in eight games. Tuesday, the team tried out street free agents Randy Bullock, Travis Coons, Kai Forbath, Zach Hocker, Marshall Koehn and Aldrick Rosas.
Wednesday, with Walsh surprisingly still the only kicker on the roster, Zimmer said, “I still believe in him.”
Zimmer did leave open the possibility of changing his mind, saying, “We’ll always evaluate it.” But he pivoted quickly to why, upon further review (for now), Walsh is still on the roster. And, no, he said it wasn’t because the team is tight against the salary cap and couldn’t afford to make a change.
Ironically, it’s a Green Bay Packer who Zimmer says is giving him hope that Walsh will pull out of a nose dive that goes back to January and the infamous 27-yard miss in the closing seconds of a 10-9 playoff loss to Seattle.
“There are a lot of factors,” Zimmer said. “We went back and looked at Mason Crosby, who I think is a really good kicker in this league. He had one year in this league where he struggled, and he fought through it.”
Crosby made 21 of 33 kicks (63.6 percent) in 2012 but rebounded to make 33 of 37 (89.2) the following year while righting his career long-term.
Zimmer also said he factored in Walsh’s game-winning kicks against Chicago and St. Louis a year ago. Walsh beat the Bears in Chicago as time expired and the Rams in overtime.
So, Mike, were Monday’s comments and Tuesday’s tryouts some sort of psychological shove for the embattled kicker?
“I don’t necessarily think it was psychological,” Zimmer said. “We just have to cover all of our bases.”
Meanwhile, asked if what transpired Monday and Tuesday would put even more pressure on him, Walsh said, “That’s not how I look at it, no. I got to do my job and be dependable for my team. That’s how I look at it.”
Asked if he thought he was going to be released, Walsh said, “You know I’m not going to answer that question.”
Stick a needle(s) in his eye
Zimmer’s right eye looked, well, horrible Wednesday. When a reporter asked if it was OK, the coach gave a rare injury update.
“I had another thing done [Tuesday],” Zimmer said. “But it’s OK.”
Six days earlier, Zimmer had eye surgery to repair a torn retina.
The latest procedure caused him to miss the kicker tryouts Tuesday. But he’s made no other work-related concessions because of his eye.
“No,” he said, adding that his vision is “good.” “It’s back to work. Back to the grind.”
Later, Zimmer was talking about the positives to come from Sunday’s loss and how his players finally “looked like my football team has looked.”
“I felt that was a good thing,” he said before smiling and adding, “If I had to get six needles stuck in my eye the last two weeks, then they could suck it up for me.”
Trumped by question
Asked if Tuesday’s presidential election can divide an NFL locker room, Zimmer was taken aback before answering, “I have no idea. I’m the least political guy you know.”
Boone respects protocol
Left guard Adam Boone, who missed Sunday’s game because of injuries that included a concussion, was cleared and had full participation in Wednesday’s practice on Wednesday.
“I’m feeling better, thinking straight and clear,” he said. “Back to normal.”
Boone said it’s “annoying” to have a doctor rule him out because of a concussion. But he said he respects the league’s protocol on head injuries.
“Sometimes you get hit in the head and things go wrong,” Boone said. “I have kids and the last thing I want to do is have to have them take care of me at 35.”
Kendricks back, Joseph out
One defensive starter returned to practice, but another sat Wednesday as the Vikings began on-field preparations for Sunday’s game at Washington.
Middle linebacker Eric Kendricks was cleared to practice after missing last week’s game because of a concussion. Meanwhile, nose tackle Linval Joseph (shoulder) missed practice.
Also missing all of Wednesday’s practice were nickel corner Captain Munnerlyn (ankle), punt returner Marcus Sherels (ankle) and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (knee).
MyCole Pruitt’s locker was cleaned out Wednesday, but he’ll only have to shift to the practice squad area of the locker room as the Vikings will bring him back after he cleared waivers, according to a league source.
Pruitt, 24, was waived Tuesday to make room on the 53-man roster for quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who was activated from the non-football injury list.
The second-year tight end has appeared in only two games this season because of a couple knee injuries. Pruitt, a 2015 fifth-round pick out of Southern Illinois, has one catch for 7 yards on 23 snaps this season.
A corresponding move is needed to free a spot on the practice squad.