Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer opened his weekly Thursday press conference with a heartfelt and unscripted statement about kicker Blair Walsh, who was waived by the Vikings two days ago.
“Although Tuesday was a tough day, Blair handled himself with professionalism and class and I was real proud of the way he handled the situation,” he said. “Blair has done a lot for us the last five years, both on the field and in the community. He’s a fine young man.”
Priefer was in his second year as special teams coordinator when the Vikings drafted Walsh in the sixth round in 2012. He helped Walsh transform from an erratic college kicker into an All-Pro as a rookie. So it was hard for him to see Walsh lose his confidence after his playoff miss against the Seahawks and never get back into a groove this season.
“I kind of take it all personally that maybe I could have done more to help him succeed at this level. Like you said, a lot of it is on Blair. But maybe I could have done something else. I don’t know,” he said. “When he got here, he wasn’t a real accurate kicker. He became a real accurate kicker. And then he had his ups and downs from there.”
Priefer feels a change of scenery will be good for the 26-year-old.
“I hope he goes to the AFC because I wouldn’t want to play him. Because at some point he’s going to turn it back on, I think,” Priefer said. “Going to another place will help him. I truly believe that.”
He also believes that big miss will make Walsh better in the long run.
“He’s handled the adversity as best as any young man could and I was real proud of him for that,” Priefer said. “I think he’s going to be better for it in the long run, both as a person and as a football player.”
Priefer explained why the Vikings opted to sign Kai Forbath over the five other kickers who worked out at Winter Park last Tuesday.
“He’s always had a real smooth approach. He’s under control,” he said. “He may not have the strongest leg on kickoffs, but he’s an effective kickoff guy as well. I thought because of his workout and his experience, I thought he was, in my opinion, the best option for us.”
Priefer confirmed that Forbath, whom the Redskins released in 2015 in part because they wanted a bigger leg for kickoffs, will handle those duties. But he did consider giving punter Jeff Locke a crack at it.
“I thought about that but I think the way that Jeff is punting right now, I don’t want to mess with his technique. That does affect it. It’s a different swing obviously,” Priefer said. “And Kai’s a good enough kickoff guy that we should be able to handle it, especially indoors.”