MANKATO – The Vikings won’t mention their names publicly out of professional courtesy. But they know exactly who these people are, what happened to them and how it’s a good idea for reigning All-Pro kicker Blair Walsh to do everything he can to avoid the same slippery slope.
It’s no secret who some of these folks are. They’re Nick Folk, Rian Lindell, Mason Crosby, Richie Cunningham and other kickers like them who were good to great as NFL rookies and then bad to worse to, in some cases, out the door not long after that.
“Blair is always going to have to continually work on things, just like a golfer,” Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer said. “I think he’s a little bit stronger than where he was a year ago. But I don’t want him to have that sophomore slump.”
Wait a minute. Isn’t mentioning the kickers who have had sophomore slumps making Walsh think more than he should about sophomore slumps? Kind of like the golfer who is thinking about hitting the ball in the woods because he’s told himself not to think about hitting the ball in the woods?
“Actually,” said Walsh, “the sophomore slump is a good thing to acknowledge and understand. But, yeah, you don’t want to dwell on it.”
Walsh had perhaps the finest rookie season by an NFL kicker ever. He made 35 of 38 field-goal attempts. His NFL-record 10 field goals of 50 yards or longer came without a miss from that distance. His 141 points ranked second by a rookie in NFL history. And he also crushed the team record for touchbacks with 53.
So how in the world does a guy come up with an encore for that? And do it with a rookie holder [Jeff Locke] and seven outdoor games as opposed to only four a year ago?
A new tool that Walsh has this year is the journal be began keeping soon after the Vikings drafted him. It was Priefer’s idea. Priefer got it from former 20-year Lions veteran kicker Jason Hanson, who got it from Chuck Priefer, Mike’s father and a former special teams coach who worked in Detroit during Hanson’s first five seasons. Small world, eh?
Hanson used more video for his journal files. Walsh has filed video reference points from his last two games a year ago, but relies more with paper, pen and a binder.
Each day that Walsh kicks, he sits down afterward and records a journal entry on a normal-sized piece of paper. He spends about 20 minutes on the good, the bad and the ugly. His rookie season took up about 75 pages.
“A lot of it wouldn’t make sense unless you were a kicker,” Walsh said. “But it’s been so helpful. I’ll be like, ‘Hey, what was it I figured out last week?’ And I can go right to it in the journal.”
Some of the early entries from his rookie season are still routine reference points for Walsh. That’s because that’s when Priefer’s coaching helped Walsh finally snap out of a funk that had caused him to make only 21 of 35 attempts as a senior at Georgia.
“I’m sure other guys do it,” Walsh said. “All I know is I’d strongly recommend it.”
Maybe it could have helped Cunningham, who made 91.9 percent (34 of 37) of his field-goal attempts with the Cowboys in 1997 but was whacked two years later after making only 60 percent. Or Lindell, who made 15 of 17 attempts for the Seahawks in 2000 but was released two years later after making only 20 of 32. Or Crosby, who made 80 percent (31 of 39) for the Packers in 2007, but has struggled nearly every year after that, including last year’s free fall to 63.6 percent (21 of 33). Or, finally, Folk, who was an 83.9 percent Pro Bowler for the Cowboys in 2007 but a former Cowboy soon after making just 64.3 percent two years later.
Walsh, of course, has supreme confidence in himself and the comfort of knowing the entire franchise trusts him. Heck, even the face of the franchise has been in Walsh’s corner since taking time to study him in training camp a year ago.
“I feel like God blessed me with a good talent,” said running back and reigning league MVP Adrian Peterson. “And He blessed me with the ability to be able to see talent, too. I’m able to realize when a guy’s got something. And this guy’s definitely got it.”