Jim Souhan: Nickname is one area Walsh is lacking

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 23, 2012 - 12:03 AM

 The moniker assigned to kicker Blair Walsh is a little too easy. You know, the way he makes kicking look.

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Blair Walsh's first NFL game saw him pump his fist after making a 55-yard field goal to tie the score at the end of regulation, followed by an overtime field goal to beat the Jaguars.

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His nickname is "The Blair Walsh Project." Which stinks.

"Low-hanging fruit" is what Vikings punter Chris Kluwe calls it.

We as a people must do better than this. If Rams rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein can be "Legatron," then the rookie kicker who is outperforming Legatron deserves an equally cool moniker.

Kluwe offered "Legtimus Prime." That triggered a gag reflex. Kluwe tried again: "A couple of 'Lord of the Rings' fans have offered 'Legolas,' " Kluwe said. "But I think he looks more like a hobbit than an elf."

Blair Walsh does, indeed, look like he might be hiding very hairy feet inside his cleats. He also may be hiding performance-enhancing corns or callouses. In 14 NFL games, Walsh has not only justified his choice as replacement for the admirable Ryan Longwell, he's become maybe the best kicker in the league.

Last Sunday, Walsh made three field goals of 50 yards or longer. He's 8-for-8 from that range this season, tying an NFL record for most 50-yarders in a season. Imagine that: Walsh is more accurate kicking an oblong ball with his instep through an elevated rectangle 50 yards away than some NBA superstars are shooting free throws.

For the season, Walsh has made 29 of 32 field goals and his long kickoffs have neutralized opponents' return games, giving the Vikings a stark advantage in field position. Since Week 5, no opponent has returned a kickoff past the 25.

Which raises a question: If Walsh is this good, why did he struggle as a senior at Georgia, and why didn't anyone else draft him before the Vikings grabbed him in the sixth round?

The answer is all about timing. Walsh and Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer both noted that Walsh sped up his kicking tempo as a senior. Neither blamed the Georgia coaches, but the prevailing view at Winter Park is that Walsh was asked to rush his kicks because Georgia was getting too many kicks blocked.

Georgia does not have one special teams coach, per se, dividing the responsibilities among many on the staff.

Asking a kicker to speed up his motion is like asking a pro golfer to change the tempo of his swing. Instead of being alarmed by Walsh's senior slump, Priefer was encouraged by Walsh's attitude about it.

"We knew he had great leg strength," Priefer said. "He had probably the best kickoff workout I've seen in 11 years going to the NFL combine. All the coaches were looking at each other like, 'You kidding me?' Then his field goal workout was good as well.

"He was so fast at Georgia. I don't know if they asked him to be fast or that was his tempo. And his plant foot, his jab step, was very inconsistent. But after working him out at Georgia, I thought this guy has got it. There is something about him, mentally, that is going to make him a pretty good pro, in my opinion."

Priefer dwelled more on Walsh's misses than his makes, hoping to gain insight into how Walsh handles "hard coaching."

"I put some heat on him," Priefer said. "I've seen guys blame their holder or their coach. I've heard, 'Coach, my holder was terrible!' This guy never made an excuse. He blamed himself for everything. He's a very genuine guy."

The cliché is that kickers are different, but Walsh comes across as pretty normal. Kluwe and Priefer say he's popular with teammates as much because of his down-to-earth nature and accountability as because of his success.

Best moment of his season?

"The game-winner in Week 1 was obviously pretty cool," Walsh said. "But each win just gets more and more awesome."

He's made 50-yarders look like chip shots. Kluwe and Priefer say that under the right conditions he could make one from 60 or longer.

"If we had a chance," Kluwe said, "I think we could break the NFL record."

The record is 63 yards. "Legolas" might beat that with ease.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. jsouhan@startribune.com

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