Sid Hartman: Blair Walsh excels so far filling kicker shoes

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 18, 2012 - 9:22 PM

And as important as his field goal accuracy is, the fact that Walsh has consistently put kickoffs into the end zone is also significant.

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Blair Walsh kicked a field goal for the Vikings on Friday night against the Buffalo Bills, one of five he made in six attempts. The Vikings went out on a limb, handing the rookie the job and releasing Ryan Longwell, but Walsh has done well in preseason.

Photo: Genevieve Ross, Associated Press

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Mike Priefer might have put his job on the line when the Vikings special teams coach convinced General Manager Rick Spielman and coach Leslie Frazier to release a great placekicker in Ryan Longwell and put the job in the hands of a rookie named Blair Walsh, who was coming off a bad senior season at Georgia.

But so far, Priefer has watched Walsh make good on two field goals against the 49ers and five of six against the Bills. So right now, he should be hailed as a hero of the coaching staff.

And as important as his field goal accuracy is, the fact that Walsh has consistently put kickoffs into the end zone is also significant. Walsh, who will be paid $390,000 compared to Longwell's 2012 contract of $2.6 million, talked about the great relationship he developed with Priefer before the Vikings drafted him in the sixth round.

"He came down to Athens [Ga.] about three times and worked me out and I saw him at the combine," Walsh said. "We had a good relationship, and we hit it off.

"He had talked about the possibility about drafting me, but obviously he couldn't promise me or tell me anything. I knew that whatever was going to happen was going to be based on my workouts and my combine performances and my overall career at Georgia."

Walsh said he was ecstatic when he was drafted.

"It was definitely surprising to see that they let Ryan go," Walsh said. "He's been such a big part of this franchise for so many years, and I have nothing but respect for him and his abilities. It was a nice vote of confidence to have me come into camp as the only kicker to get the most reps I can get. I just need to continue to show them that I'm capable of being a starting kicker for this team.

"I know I've said it before and it's kind of cliché, but I have to keep competing against myself each and every day to get better. I can't get complacent with anything I do. I need to be ready to go and 100 percent confident by the time this season starts."

How does Walsh explain that he had such a great junior year, when he was good on 20 of 23 attempts, but then his senior year saw him slump and hit just 21 of 35?

"When I came here in the spring after I got drafted, they just slowed me down and tweaked my form a little bit and it has been working for me so far," he said.

Walsh credits snapper Cullen Loeffler and holder Chris Kluwe for his early success.

"It took me a little while to get used to holding with somebody new, because I had the same holder for about four years at Georgia," Walsh said. "But Chris Kluwe is an awesome holder and he really works hard at what he does, and I think he takes pride in being a great holder. So far, we've been working great together and the whole rhythm from Cullen to him to me has been good so far."

As for the pressure on a rookie kicker who will be released if he doesn't produce, Walsh said: "There's pressure no matter what, it doesn't matter who I'd be succeeding. But this is the NFL, there's only 32 of us that kick the ball as a profession, and you have to be ready each and every day and have 110 percent focus and perform."

Walsh might be a factor in the Vikings winning a lot more games than expected.

Kill high on quarterback Gray

Gophers football coach Jerry Kill notes that quarterback MarQueis Gray came back from a ligament tear last year, and now that his knee is even stronger, he should have a great season.

"The way he was out there running full speed and making cuts on a dime last year, he looked great," Kill said. "I feel like he is going to have a great year. Also he's going to help [receiver] Jamel Harbison out and both of those guys should be able to help us out this year."

Speaking about the improvement in talent on the team this year, Kill said: "We're taking a program from the ground up, and it takes some time, but we've certainly improved athletically and I'm pleased the way our kids to this point are giving effort and trying to get better."

Williams files appeal

Attorneys who represent Jimmy Williams filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court on Friday for another hearing to try to overturn the decision that court made earlier this month in his case against the University of Minnesota.

The court overturned decisions in favor of Williams that found he had quit his Oklahoma State job believing he had been hired as men's basketball assistant to Tubby Smith, only to have then-Gophers athletic director Joe Maturi overrule the hiring. Four justices removed themselves from the case because of their ties to the U, and two acting justices were appointed to hear it. Williams' lawyers believe they deserve another hearing.

Jottings

Vikings owner Zygi Wilf said he is patient with the progress being made on the team's new stadium, with the first big move to be made sometime in September when the architect for the building is named.

Glen Taylor, the Timberwolves owner who has made many mission trips to foreign lands with Bill Austin of Starkey Hearing Technolgies to give out free hearing aids, is now on a two-week mission to China to do some charity work.

Former Gophers associate athletic director Jeff Schemmel is managing director of the college division of JMI Sports, where he recommends the hiring of college coaches. Schemmel said that Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague was very highly rated as a candidate for many jobs before he chose to take the position here.

In 2007, when the Vikings drafted Tyler Thigpen in the seventh round out of Coastal Carolina, the quarterback was one of the standouts in training camp. But the Vikings tried to sneak Thigpen through waivers and Kansas City claimed him, making for a very unhappy Vikings coaching staff. Well, Thigpen completed eight of 15 passes against the Vikings on Friday for 56 yards for Buffalo, the fourth team he has been with since he was drafted.

The Las Vegas oddsmakers don't pick any of the four local pro teams to be very successful this year. The Vikings are 100-1 longshots to win the Super Bowl; the Twins opened at 80-1 and current odds are 1,000-1 for them to make the playoffs; the Timberwolves are 75-1 to win the title; and the Wild is 18-1.

While the sale of student tickets has been very slow for Gophers football, the word is that the Aspire Group that was hired to sell public season tickets has sold 500 new packages to different firms.

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