Bounce back has been on track for Vikings kicker Blair Walsh
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) The first field goal by Blair Walsh this season that counted for Minnesota on the scoreboard, exhibition game or not, was good from 51 yards out.
Never mind that the ball hit the crossbar before bouncing over for three points. The sight of Walsh confidently walking off the field at halftime in Cincinnati was satisfying for the Vikings and their agonized fans, who haven't forgotten about his unfathomable miss in January that kept the team from moving on in the playoffs.
Walsh found it gratifying, too.
''Any time you go out there and have a mistake-free game and just do what you do and make kicks, it helps,'' Walsh said. ''I didn't expect anything less. I'm confident in my abilities and myself and what I've shown so far in camp, and it's nice to show that in game time.''
He told coach Mike Zimmer ''thanks'' for sending him out for the long try on Friday against the Bengals.
''I would've let him kick it anyway,'' Zimmer said.
Confidence maintenance for a potentially vulnerable player can be strategic. Still, Zimmer and special teams coordinator Mike Priefer have repeatedly expressed pride in the way Walsh has bounced back this spring and summer from that infamous 27-yard field goal attempt with 22 seconds left in the frigid air that veered left and sealed a 10-9 victory for Seattle in the first round of the playoffs.
Guess who the Vikings play this week in their second preseason game?
Change of venue, vastly different weather, nothing at stake. Yet an unavoidable reminder, even if the coaches and players aren't thinking that way.
''Not at all. It's a completely new season,'' Priefer said. ''I can understand why people would think that, but at the end of the day we've long since moved on. Blair's had a phenomenal camp. He's stronger than he was a year ago. He's kicking off well. He's kicking field goals well. I'm excited about this year.''
Overshadowed by Walsh's most visible miss were the 34 field goals he made during the regular season, the most in the NFL, and the three others he converted that afternoon against the Seahawks.
''I don't know if you ever get over something like that,'' Priefer said, ''but I've moved on from it.''
Walsh has plenty of success to bank on in the quest to put that game in the past. The move inside U.S. Bank Stadium will also provide climate-neutral conditions. Then there's the new task he's been busy trying to master: kickoffs with hang time.
Instead of simply winding up and trying to boom the ball into the end zone, Walsh will be asked more often to drop the ball inside the 5-yard line to force a return in light of the league rule change that sets the line of scrimmage at the 25-yard line following a touchback instead of the 20.
''We weren't told to kick deep at all on Friday,'' Walsh said. ''That's kind of showing you what we're going to do. I don't think that's always going to be the case. When we're playing a really good returner or somebody we want to keep the ball out of his hands, we could do stuff like that. But we've got a good enough coverage unit where I don't see us backing down from returners.''
Walsh, too, has a good enough leg to keep from backing down from the challenge of bouncing back from that ill-timed miss.
''You just want to continue to work hard, like you always do. You just want to continue to prove yourself as one of the best kickers in this league, which I am,'' Walsh said. ''I'm confident in what I do each and every day.''
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