February 18, 2013

On top of the world

Blair Walsh from Anthony Dasher on Vimeo.

As far as kickers go in the NFL, Blair Walsh is on the top of the world.

After a senior season at Georgia which saw the former Bulldog struggle mightily his final year, Walsh's rookie campaign with the Minnesota Vikings was nothing short of amazing.

Some suggest it might have been the best season a kicker has ever had.

His numbers were truly amazing.

Not only was Walsh a perfect 36-of-36 on extra points, but the South Florida native next to running back Adrian Peterson and quarterback Christian Ponder was arguably the Vikings' biggest offensive weapon after nailing 35 of his 38 field goal attempts, including an NFL-record 10 from 50-plus yards.

"It's been a crazy 365 days, you can put it that way. I went through some lows, some highs and everything in between," whose season was capped with a trip to Hawaii and the Pro Bowl. "I'm definitely looking forward to the years to come."

It was quite the contrast from what he experienced his senior year in Athens.

A four-year starter for the Bulldogs, Walsh was superb his first three seasons, including one where he was a finalist for the prestigious Lou Groza Award.

But thanks to what he conceded was a mechanical flaw Walsh slumped badly as a senior, converting just 21 of 35 attempts.

However, that didn't dissuade the Vikings, who took a chance, taking Walsh with the 175th overall pick in last year's NFL Draft.

As one might expect, Walsh has been asked plenty of times how he's been able to turn things around.

"I think I needed somebody who was not involved with Georgia or me to sit back and analyze what I was doing wrong," he said. "We fixed it relatively quickly after being drafted by the Vikings and I just started building my confidence again to where I used to be and have a good season."

Surprisingly, it actually proved to be a relatively easy fix.

"I was just too fast to the ball which was causing me to be a little bit erratic," Walsh said. "I wasn't seeing the ball as long as I should have while it was in play but once we changed that it changed my whole outlook on it. I was able to have fun with it again and the confidence was able to start coming back."

How did he manage it?

"Just wait longer. I was going as soon as I saw the ball move and now I'm waiting until I see it hit our holder's hands. I have such a quick approach anyway, but I was combining my quick approach with leaving early and that's what was giving me the bad results," Walsh said. "Once we scaled back, I felt more under control and I knew it was going to come off my foot more times than not."

Ironically, rushing his kicks is something current Bulldog kicker Marshall Morgan mentioned as one of his issues this past season with the Bulldogs.

According to Walsh, he's already spoken to the freshman on a number of occasions.

"We've talked a little about what was going on, especially with the PAT thing. I have him a couple of pointers and I think he really took it to heart," Walsh said. "I didn't necessarily tell him what he was doing wrong, but offered some guidance if he wanted it and if he wanted to run anything by me I'd be available. I just stressed to him that I had been in his position, I had success and failed at the college level. I was there for him and I think he took advantage at it."

Walsh can appreciate what a little confidence can mean.

Shortly after being drafted by the Vikings, Minnesota released veteran kicker Ryan Longwell, all but assuring the job would be Walsh's come fall.

"I think that was that extra push that got me over the edge when it came to my confidence. To know they were willing to see what I was like in person, what I was going to do when they brought me I that weekend before they let him go, it was a nice vote of confidence but it was also a lot of pressure, too.," he said. "They're saying they expect the job to be yours but you've still got to prove it to them that they were right by taking a chance on me, taking me as their project. I hope we do the same thing."