Of all the places Blair Walsh could have ended up … it seems peculiar that it would be with the Seattle Seahawks.
It was against these Seahawks two seasons ago that Walsh’s career began to spiral into its current crossroad. He hooked left a potential game-winning 27-yard field goal for the Vikings in frigid Minneapolis in the NFC wild card game. Some of the guys who are now his teammates danced and jumped and collapsed in celebration all around him that January 2016 day.
Some – including Hall of Fame quarterback and Vikings legend Fran Tarkenton – attributed the former All-Pro kicker’s struggles last season to that fateful field goal attempt, and an inability to overcome the miss mentally.
“He’s addressed that,” Seahawks special teams coach Brian Schneider said while Walsh gets know his new team in Seattle’s training camp. “He’s talked about it and he’s moved on.
“That’s part of his history. He knows that, and everybody knows that. But that’s not going to define him.”
What Walsh and the Seahawks hope defines him is a leg that has been one of the best the NFL has ever seen.
They hope it’s by rediscovering that leg that made 10 field goals of 50-plus yards when Walsh was a rookie in 2012 – an NFL record. And a leg that once made 12 consecutive from at least 50 yards. That, too, is an NFL record.
“My thing is I’m very confident in what I can do,” Walsh said. “I was disappointed, obviously, with the way the 2015 season ended, but it’s not something I think about actively. It doesn’t really cross my mind unless someone talks to me about it. I’ve moved on. It’s in the past. And I’m really focused on what I’m doing now and what I can do for this team.”
So signing with the team he essentially won a playoff game for?
“There was no hesitancy,” Walsh said of his one-year, prove-it contract with the Seahawks.
“This is such a great organization, and they saw that I’m a talented guy. And you combine that with my work ethic and the chance that they are giving me and that’s what made it so appealing.”
What made it so appealing for the Seahawks is the power in Walsh’s leg.
He’s the most diminutive player on Seattle’s roster, standing 5-foot-10, 175 pounds. Of all the players who made a field goal last season, only Kansas City’s Cairo Santos is smaller (5-8, 160).
But has Schneider seen many tinier?
“There’s been small guys,” he laughed. “They come in all shapes and sizes. But he has a lot of power, and the work ethic he has is off the charts.”
Walsh tied a Vikings franchise record with a 56-yard field goal in 2012.
But the 27-year-old hit one longer in high school – 59 yards. Walsh was an Army All-American out of Boca Raton, Florida, before heading to the University of Georgia and later was a sixth-round draft pick by the Vikings. That’s not common; Walsh is one of only 17 kickers drafted into the NFL in the past 10 years.
“I just had that right away. Right in high school,” Walsh said of his leg. “I’ve always just been able to get really good leverage on the ball for my size.
“And I’m also not really that small,” Walsh continued. “I’m just small for NFL standards. It’s one of those things where you look at me and I might be diminutive looking, but I’m pretty strong and I lift a lot and I work out a lot and I take a lot of pride in that and I’ve seen that translate onto the field.”
Seahawks punter Jon Ryan, who will continue to be the holder on field goals, confirmed that.
“He’s all ripped up,” Ryan said. “It’s crazy, it’s really crazy. But kicking is more than just your leg. Your leg is like 25 percent of it. It’s a lot about core strength and it’s really a full-body movement and he’s just so strong. He has a lot of power in that small frame.”
But by mid-November of last year Walsh was in the thick of his struggles in Minnesota. He had made 78.9 percent of his extra points (15-for-19), which was the lowest percentage in the NFL just behind Cincinnati’s Mike Nugent and now-former Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka. The Vikings cut Walsh just over halfway through the season.
Now “Hausch Money” is signed with Buffalo, and Walsh got a contract with $800,000 in base pay. That is almost $2 million less than what Hauschka made in base pay last year. So the Seahawks got younger and cheaper.
And even before Walsh’s 2015 season ended so badly, it was one of his best. He had made more field goals than anyone in the NFL (34). And he was 3-for-3 in that playoff game against the Seahawks before missing that final kick in the 10-9 loss.
Tarkenton introduced a diagnosis for what would come in Walsh’s ensuing season, when he not only had the lowest percentage of extra points made in the NFL, but tied for the second-lowest field-goal percentage (12-for-16). He called it “kicking yips.”
“He’s a good guy, and has had some good years for the Vikings,” Tarkenton wrote for the Twin Cities Pioneer Press on Nov. 8. “But right now, he has the yips. When a golfer gets the yips, he can’t putt. When a kicker gets the yips, they start missing kicks that 99 percent of kickers make. His problems seem to show up in pressure situations.”
And by Tarkenton’s analysis, when a kicker gets the yips they have to change environments to get it back.
“It’s been refreshing for me to be here, that’s for sure,” Walsh said. “Nobody wants to get released, but I’m also the first person to say that if I had made more kicks I would still be there right now.
“But I know my ability. I know that I have produced in this league and everyone has seen that. And I can continue to do that. I think that’s what these coaches (for the Seahawks) saw in me, and I have to prove them right.
“I feel good. And I even had a great 2015 season, which is what stunk about the way that ended. It doesn’t matter, though. It’s what you do now and I understand that. Our job is to go out there on game day and send it through those uprights. That’s what I’ll be judged on. Any criticisms that come along the way – so be it.
“But this has been a good change for me. It’s been a great culture so far, and I’m so excited about this season.”
SEAHAWKS WAIVE TWO
Marcel Reece’s hold on the Seahawks fullback job tightened Tuesday when the team waived Kyle Coleman. Seattle also waived injured offensive lineman Robert Myers. No corresponding move was immediately announced to fill the two roster spots.
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