Almost immediately after Blair Walsh was released by the Minnesota Vikings in mid-November last year, nearly a full season after his horrific playoff miss against the Seattle Seahawks, he started fielding offers from other teams. But, as the kicker would later relay to friend and CBS analyst Jay Feely, there was something more attractive than an immediate paycheck.
A kicker, like a golfer, needs time to fix his swing.
“He didn’t want to be a stopgap solution, No. 1, but he also wanted to fix his mechanical problem,” Feely told me last month. “He spent some time [with a sports psychologist] and he knew he wanted to take some time, fix his problems and have enough time to practice those techniques before he went on a new team.”
His point? “I think [Roberto] Aguayo would do well to listen to his advice.”
Aguayo was signed to the Carolina Panthers’ practice squad on Wednesday in what could be the best-case scenario for the most analyzed kicking prospect in modern NFL history. It has been nearly two months since he was released by the Bears and, without the pressure of immediately stepping into an in-game situation, he has time to fix what Feely described as an obvious and fatal flaw in his kicking motion.
Being picked in the second-round of the draft was a problem. Missing early kicks in practice was a problem. Dealing with caving confidence while on Hard Knocks was a problem. So was doing the kicking equivalent of throwing a football sidearm for nearly his entire life.
“There were a couple things in his technique that, as a kicking expert, you know that’s going to be a problem,” Feely said. “This technique, and this is getting a little complicated, but he comes across the ball really hard [Feely says this while using his hands to mimic a sort of hook in Aguayo’s leg movement]. So, if you think about it, his timing has to be perfect to hit the ball square.
“If you look at the best kickers, Adam Vinatieri, Justin Tucker, they come at the ball and their hips stay square, so their legs are moving straight at the target. It’s almost straight down that target line so it’s easier to stay consistent then someone who swoops across the ball and has to hit the ball at the perfect time. So when you add that in with pressure and misses…”
Aguayo is naturally gifted but needs to have his internal hard drive bleached. For Walsh, who is hitting 90.9% of his field goals in Seattle this year, including 4-of-4 from 40-49 yards, that took 87 days from his last stop in Minnesota to his current stop in Seattle (he was signed to a contract in early February), plus an entire offseason and preseason to tinker and perfect.
Will Carolina give Aguayo that kind of space and make a real investment? Or, will they be the third team to simply repeat the same mistakes and wash out a promising prospect.