Blair Walsh didn’t pack much for his bye week getaway to Georgia. Among the important items were cleats and kicking sticks. The footballs were shipped and waiting for him when he arrived at his alma mater’s practice facility in Athens.
A one-day, laid-back kicking session was the medicine the Vikings kicker needed to begin flushing out any remaining issues he picked up in the preseason and carried into the first few weeks of the regular season.
No teammates, no coaches old or new, were on hand for direction — just Walsh, with his dog and girlfriend nearby for moral support.
“It was perfect. Nobody was around me. I just got to go out there and blast balls through the uprights and just sort of feel good about what I’m doing again,” Walsh said. “I knew I need to get right and sort of get in my comfortable zone and once we were there, I felt comfortable.
“I only needed one session. It was fun. It was just weird to be back in the same place that you spent four years of your college career basically learning how to become a good kicker, which got you to this point.”
Seven weeks into his fourth year with the Vikings and only three months after signing a four-year extension worth up to $14 million with $5.25 million guaranteed to make him one of the highest-paid kickers in the NFL, he needed to take a step back and refocus.
Walsh was 5-for-11 on preseason field goal attempts and missed his first chance of the regular season on the team’s first drive from 44 yards in a 20-3 loss at San Francisco. He made his next four field goals before missing a 38-yard attempt early in the second quarter of the Vikings’ 23-20 loss at Denver.
He made his final two field goals against the Broncos before taking the advice of his parents to get away from the Twin Cities for a few days to refresh a little bit. Since he’s returned from the bye week, he’s 8-for-8 with two long-ball conversions of 53 and 51 yards.
Walsh made five field goals in the Vikings’ 28-19 win over Detroit, and has made his past 10.
“I’m in the zone right now,” Walsh said. “It’s not a sigh of relief [to be consistent], it just feels good to make your last 10 field goals. … But it doesn’t mean you get complacent. It means you’re even more motivated to continue that and continue to make kicks.”
A pair of 50-plus yard field goals helps make that a little easier.
“It’s huge for your confidence to see the ball go through from that distance. It had been a while, so it helps,” Walsh said.
He was 10-for-10 from 50 or longer in his Pro Bowl rookie season in 2012.
Walsh doesn’t have his dog chasing down his kicks at Winter Park or on game days, but he’s been able to carry the refocused and comfortable mentality he established during the bye week into practice and Sundays. The coaching staff has taken notice.
“I believe he’s going to make it every time he goes out there, so I don’t really have trust issues,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “I asked him on one [Sunday] … ‘Are you going to make this?’ and he said ‘Yeah,’ so I said, ‘Go and get it.’ … He seems to have a lot more confidence.”
Special teams coach Mike Priefer joked that when a kicker is good from 50-plus it’s because of the coach. He knows better than most, though, the talent Walsh has.
“He’s one of the top kickoff/field goal guys in our league, but when he’s a confident kicker, he’s a really good kicker and he showed that on Sunday,” Priefer said. “He came back [from the bye week] refocused on the things that we’ve been talking about since he’s been here and he’s worked really hard on it, his mental approach to the game.”
Walsh’s next battle will be nailing the point-after attempts. He has missed two this season (10-for-12), including one last Sunday at indoor Ford Field. He continues to take accountability for mistakes and said it’s just about getting used to the extra points’ new 33-yard distance.
Priefer added that there are no chip shots in the NFL and though the transition has been a little bumpy, not just for Walsh, he hopes there won’t be any more misses the rest of the season. Seventeen teams in the league have missed at least one extra point.
Walsh’s teammates never doubted their kicker would come around.
“I don’t think anyone in this locker room ever really questioned Blair,” punter and placeholder Jeff Locke said. “They’ve seen him perform in the past. We’ve all seen how good he is in practice every day and how he performs. I don’t think it’s reassurance, it’s just more happiness for him. … We just love to see him succeed.”