Vikings kicker Blair Walsh struggling in preseason
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) Blair Walsh finished getting dressed in front of his locker, slipped a cap on backward and took a deep breath before turning to the reporters gathered around him.
''OK,'' Walsh said, perhaps as much to himself as anyone else. ''Let's do this.''
Coming off of a game in which he went 0 for 3 on field goals and missed an extra point, Walsh knew the questions weren't going to be easy. With only two games remaining in the preseason before the Minnesota Vikings opener at San Francisco on Sept. 14, working through a slump that has carried over from last season may not be easy, either.
Walsh is 2 for 6 on field goals through the first three games of the exhibition season and does not seem to be kicking with the comfort and security that should come with the four-year contract extension that he signed in training camp. The Vikings gave him $5.25 million guaranteed in that contract, a big vote of confidence that Walsh can regain the form that made him a Pro Bowl kicker as a rookie in 2012.
The game against Oakland on Saturday night, which was suspended for an hour due to lightning strikes, presented difficult weather conditions with high winds and heavy rain throughout the night. Walsh missed field goals of 35, 38 and 49 yards, at one point drawing a stern look from coach Mike Zimmer as he trotted back to the sideline.
After reviewing the video, Walsh said on Monday that he identified a problem with his mechanics that can be addressed.
''I wasn't swinging straight down where I wanted to aim,'' Walsh said. ''So if you're aiming at a certain point, I wasn't aiming toward that point. I'll correct that in the future.
''That's why it's preseason. You need to be consistent and do well, but at the end of the day, I'm glad this was in the preseason and not the regular season.''
Walsh is well-versed in regular season struggles as well.
Last year he missed five of six field goals during a two-week stretch in December, a skid that dropped his percentage to .710, easily the worst in the league. He made his final four kicks of the year over the last two games of the season to finish with a .743 percentage, which was still good for last place.
Walsh also struggled as a senior at Georgia, going 21 of 35.
Both times, Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer has been able to identify hiccups in Walsh's form, calm the kicker and get him going. The Vikings invested a sixth-round pick in Walsh even after his shaky senior season with the Bulldogs, and the strong-legged rookie rewarded them by making 92 percent of his kicks, including a record 10 for 10 on tries of 50 yards or longer.
Zimmer said he was concerned by Walsh's performance and thought he rushed one of the tries on Saturday night.
And Walsh's ability to pull himself out of the funks that can cause kickers to fall off the map certainly factored into the Vikings' decision to offer him a long-term extension.
''It's not my first rodeo in that area. I've been through a slump here or there,'' Walsh said. ''It's part of being a pro. You have to bounce back and you have to just put it behind you. You're here for a reason and they keep you here for a reason. You have to remember that.''
But the lack of consistency also has to be concerning. Walsh's latest stumble is his third in the last five years.
Walsh will try to work through the kinks over the last two weeks while also breaking in a new long snapper. The Vikings cut 12-year veteran Cullen Loeffler on Monday, saying goodbye to the longest-tenured player on the team. Kevin McDermott beat him out this preseason.
''These types of decisions are the hardest part of our jobs,'' Vikings GM Rick Spielman said in a statement issued by the team. ''Cullen was outstanding in the community and on the field for the Vikings. He handled his business with class and his impact in the locker room and on the franchise was second to none. We wish him the best in the future.''
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