Rookie Daniel Carlson will be the Vikings’ third kicker in three seasons.
The Vikings released veteran Kai Forbath on Monday, two days after he missed a 41-yard field-goal attempt off the right post in a preseason loss to Jacksonville. The Vikings kicker competition lasted until Aug. 20, and Carlson said the pressure should help his dive into the tension-filled NFL.
“That’s one of the things competition really helps,” Carlson said Monday. “Every kick is a pressure kick when your job is on the line. It’s probably going to be decided on a few different kicks.”
So begins the Carlson era in purple, less than two years after the Vikings cut former All-Pro Blair Walsh. Forbath, 30, stepped in during the middle of the 2016 season and went on to convert 50 of 57 field-goal attempts — including two fourth-quarter field goals against New Orleans in January’s NFC divisional match that became the Vikings’ first playoff victory since 2009.
However, Forbath missed eight 33-yard extra-point attempts in 1½ seasons, and he didn’t possess the leg strength the Vikings desired on kickoffs and long field-goal attempts. Forbath went 1-for-2 on field-goals Saturday against the Jaguars. Carlson made all six of his kicks — four extra points, two field goals — during the preseason opener at Denver.
“We just figured it was getting close to the last couple of preseason games,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “Kai did a great job while he was here. He’s a great kid. We just decided to go with Daniel.”
The writing was on the wall for Forbath after the Vikings drafted Carlson this spring. The Vikings traded up to draft Carlson in the fifth round (167th overall), sending two sixth-round picks to the Jets while acquiring an additional seventh-round pick. Carlson is the highest-drafted kicker in franchise history, selected eight spots earlier than the No. 175 pick the Vikings used to select Walsh in 2012.
Now Carlson, the Auburn record holder and SEC’s all-time leading scorer, begins in earnest his role as Vikings kicker that comes with an infamous history and Super Bowl expectations. The 23-year-old said he’s not going to ignore pressure that comes with a team that made the NFC Championship Game last season.
“Definitely embrace,” Carlson said. “I think you want to be on a winning team. I came into a situation where, with what they did last season, I’m just going to take that and run with it. Do my job one day at a time and hopefully be a part of that success. As a kicker, I hope I get lots of extra points. When we get some big field goals, I’ll be ready.”
The early signs of Carlson’s psyche have been positive, according to Zimmer.
“He’s been pretty calm all along,” Zimmer said. “It was nice to see him in Denver go out and kick those, but it’ll be a little bit different when we’re playing San Francisco [in the season opener], I’m sure. We’ll see how it goes, you know?”
What the Vikings know for fact is Carlson’s leg strength and his track record of making pressure kicks. Carlson was the only Auburn player to score when the unranked Tigers beat No. 18 Louisiana State 18-13 in September 2016. His six field goals included an opening 51-yard kick and two fourth-quarter field goals, one to take the late 15-13 lead.
Almost two years later, Carlson drilled a 57-yard field goal against the Broncos in his NFL preseason debut.
His leg strength was a deciding factor for the Vikings in both the draft pick and competition over Forbath. On kickoffs, he can force a touchback at will. That’s important as Vikings brass anticipates touchbacks to be more valuable with 2018 kickoff rule changes forcing more blockers to line up closer to the kickoff, creating a more wide-open return atmosphere.
Zimmer still didn’t hand over the job to Carlson, waiting until three weeks before the Sept. 9 opener against the 49ers to settle on his latest kicker.
“You make your decision and live with it,” Zimmer said.