January 10th of 2016 shall forever live in Blair Walsh’s mind. Walsh botched an easy chipper during the Wild Card playoff game and his team was none too happy about it. To see exactly what the Minnesota Vikings locker room thought of him after this match, think back to the recent preseason game on the 18th of August.
The night pitted the Vikings against the Seattle Seahawks in a preseason match normally dedicated to tying up loose ends on each of the teams’ depth charts. For Walsh, this game meant a little bit more than simply getting in tune with Jon Ryan (Placeholder) and Tyler Ott (Long Snapper). Walsh was sporting a new jersey and had a chance to show his former team how he was holding up with a new look.
Having missed a 53 yard field goal in the first half of the game, missing in front of the former crew may have suggested that Walsh hadn’t changed from his less than illustrious 2016 campaign. The second half revealed another opportunity, this time a 52 yard kick.
It was reported that the Vikings squad taunted their former kicker right after the second half field goal kick. In most other situations the taunting is totally reasonable as it’s part of competitive nature to taunt. This kick was a defining moment in the relationship that was broken over a single 27 yard kick attempt in the playoffs back in January of 2016.
The truth about that playoff game hadn’t ever truly been discerned and put on the plate for the masses to digest. As fans we thought, “You missed a chipper Blair, what the hell?” We questioned his capabilities and his dependability as a kicker. He missed a total of eight kicks the very next season, suggesting that maybe his successful rookie campaign was really a fluke and he wouldn’t ever be able to sustain long term success in the NFL.
That 2016 playoff game ended 10-9 in the Seahawks favor. If you ask me what was the reason for the Vikings blunder, I’d respond by asking, “Where was the Vikings offense that entire game? 9 points? Give me break…” The Vikings’ perception surrounding that kick wasn’t kind to him. He did all he could by getting 9 points on the board, but the lack of offensive success was pushed under the rug by his botched kick on that fateful day.
That second half field goal kick in the 2017 preseason game sported a solid hit right down the middle of the posts. After the teams broke their separate ways, we witnessed Walsh take about 6 steps towards the Vikings sideline and point at his former teammates. As to what was said is left for us to figure out with no definitive answer, but for the sake of speculation it was probably something along the lines of: “You guys were the center of my torment last year and your taunting shows that you haven’t changed. I’ll be knocking in kicks this year behind a better offense with a coach who can actually maintain a disciplined integrity of the locker room.”
Or more simply: “Pipe down, cause I got ya!”
So what exactly comes along with being a Seahawks kicker? As alluded to already, the Seattle Seahawks kicker usually doesn’t have to worry about bailing out the entire organization. Russell Wilson and the offense is coached well enough to position the special team unit for success. The special teams line is of high quality as well. While the unit did have a slump during last season, key pieces are in place for a solid revival.
Jon Ryan and Tyler Ott are going to be with Blair Walsh all the way this year. Jon Ryan has displayed unwavering consistency in his placements for his kicker over the course of his career. Tyler Ott comes aboard as the team’s new long snapper. To be frank, he’s never sustained a long-term job just yet in this league, but he’s shown promise as he’s already beaten out last year’s Seahawks long snapper in Nolan Frese, who was recently let go on August 2nd.
Most important, we could yet again be seeing Pete Carroll’s unique style of player development coming through. He’s patient, promotes competition and is encouraging towards the thoughts of the players and his staff. His players have always exemplified a forward thinking ethos in the media which fosters a strong bond between players and community. During training camp and preseason, all players are given a chance at a roster spot – perform and you’re in, no politics involved.
This coaching management directly opposes the disorganization Walsh left in Minnesota. Especially over the past 5 years, the Vikings team wasn’t the calmest places in the league. From Adrian Peterson’s child abuse trial, to Mike Priefer’s homophobic remarks leading to a punter’s dismissal, and the very unfortunate perennially injured quarterback situation, the Vikings aren’t known as a shimmering beacon of a disciplined NFL team a la the New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, or maybe the Seahawks. All these issues make it hard for a player to find true stability, especially for a kicker.
Now imagine what comes along with blaming Walsh for that botched kick against the Seahawks in January of 2016. It doesn’t just come with the, “Oh we’re out of the playoffs, UGH!” It comes along with the baggage of controversy, management’s inability of finding a healthy and reliable quarterback, and a poor drafting record.
Blair Walsh pointing at the sideline is Blair Walsh being allowed to be Blair Walsh, and Pete Carroll for certain has encouraged this uplifting and independent behavior. This cultural change for him might be exactly what he needs to flip the switch on his career and everything is heading in a positive trajectory this preseason. Walsh has missed just one field goal (8 for 9) during this preseason while also nailing every single extra point attempt. In case you were wondering, the Vikings still have no idea about who to slate as their starting kicker with the decision coming between Kai Forbath who struggled with Walsh last year and an undrafted kicker from Iowa.
Carroll’s guidance and leadership in a disciplined Seahawks locker room should turn the corner for a special team poised for a rejuvenated season. These factors guarantee a Pro Bowl year for the new kicker.