MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings made their trust in kicker Blair Walsh clear at the beginning of training camp, by giving him a four-year contract extension that included $5.25 million in guaranteed money. So there's no real reason to think Walsh's struggles in the team's first three preseason games will put his job in jeopardy any time soon.
But there's also no escaping the fact that since last December, Walsh hasn't been the same kind of dependable kicker the Vikings had when he went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2012, or even when he drilled 26 of 30 field goals in 2013. Since Week 14 last season, Walsh is 7-for-16 in games, and 2-for-6 in the preseason. He missed three field goals and an extra point on Saturday night against the Oakland Raiders, and while swirling winds played with the trajectory of Walsh's kicks on Saturday, neither the kicker nor coach Mike Zimmer was about to accept that as an excuse. Raiders kicker Giorgio Tavecchio made both of his field goals.
"It didn’t feel real good with how I hit the ball obviously, and the results showed that," Walsh said. "I have to do better. Preseason or regular season, that cannot happen, and I know that."
Walsh has hit most of his attempts in practices, and nearly all of the kicks he has missed were over 50 yards. Something isn't translating to games, though, and it's worth wondering if the misses are starting to feed on themselves. Walsh is a tactician as a kicker; he and punter Jeff Locke have charts of the wind conditions at TCF Bank Stadium, and come down to practice at the stadium for a day during most weeks before home games. Both Walsh and Zimmer thought the fourth-year kicker was pushing the ball more than he was trying to overcompensate for wind on Saturday, but the mental toll of repeated misses could become a factor.
"You have to think of it the same way," Walsh said. "You have got to out there and do your job, make your kick and move on. One miss leads to the other. You make one of those first two, they all come off of each other."
Walsh's 1-for-6 stretch in Weeks 14 and 15 was the first significant slump of his career, and as the kicker pointed out, he came back to hit his final four field goals last season. Three of those kicks were inside 40 yards, but it could help Walsh to draw on that experience now. Otherwise, a slump that lingers into the regular season could become a more significant issue.
"It's what I've been doing the past three years." he said. "When you miss, you've got to look at your next kick as the only kick that you have left. Take each opportunity one at a time, I know it sounds cliche, but that's what keeps guys in the league and that's what keeps us around."