To keep kickers on edge while they searched for a replacement kicker during their offseason program last year, the Bears employed what coach Matt Nagy referred to as “Augusta silence,” evoking the atmosphere on the 72nd hole at the Masters to simulate the pressure of a late-game field goal attempt.
Were the Vikings to take a similar tack in training camp practices over the next few weeks, the proper approach might be something resembling Augusta silence, interrupted by a timely taunt from a fellow golfer.
In some ways, that’s what kicker Dan Bailey expects it to be like on the field this fall, when the NFL regular season begins with stadiums mostly or completely empty.
Fans do their part to ratchet up the pressure on kickers before a big field-goal attempt on the road — “You can almost kind of feel it your chest, like it would be going to an air show or something and those jets are flying by,” Bailey said — but a quiet stadium presents a different set of challenges.
“Not having the crowd noise is going to be a lot more weird than we think it is,” he said Monday in a video conference with reporters. “Sometimes you’ll line up for a kick and … you can definitely at times — especially at home games — hear the other team yelling stuff at you before you’re going to kick.
“In my head, I’m like, ‘Well, there’s no crowd noise or even a low crowd noise to block that out,’ and that’s something you’re going to have to think about and get ready for. Hopefully, it doesn’t throw you off or anything like that.”
The banter from across the line of scrimmage is playful enough; Bailey said he has had opposing players facetiously offer him their game checks if he misses the kick.
The silence, though, is what can leave kickers at the mercy of their thoughts.
During practices, the Vikings often incorporate field goals in the middle of simulated game situations, running their special teams unit onto the field during a two-minute drill to work on the timing of a crucial kick with the clock running down.
“That’s kind of the environment I like to create for our guys — a little bit of organized mayhem,” special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf said. “I want them to be in the thick of things, and then I want us to step up and perform our operation the way they know how.”
The Vikings gave Bailey and punter Britton Colquitt three-year contracts this offseason, investing in the kind of special-teams stability they have frequently lacked under Mike Zimmer.
Their continuity from last season, Bailey and Colquitt said Monday, will help the veterans be ready for a year where their first game action comes not in a preseason game but against the Packers on Sept. 13.
To help him get prepared, Bailey wouldn’t mind if the Vikings gave him opportunities to practice in environments where he can hear himself think — in addition to whatever creative jabs his teammates can construct.
“Honestly, I think it would be beneficial,” he said. “At least try it out just because we don’t know what it’s going to be like. Because for sure the other teams are going to be doing it. There’s no question about that. They’re going to try to get in your head and yell stuff, which is fine. I get that.
“… A lot of times we do practice with crowd noise here so maybe I can talk to Zimmer or [Maalouf] or one of those guys and see if we can maybe do some simulated stuff. I’m sure the guys would love to talk some noise, have some friendly banter. I think it would help. I’d be up for it, for sure.’’