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Vikes’ Walsh in kicking slump

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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Former All-Pro kicker Blair Walsh can be added to the “it’s always something” list of things to worry about for the Minnesota Vikings.

How long to worry remains to be seen. But Walsh followed the worst season of his young career with a struggling preseason that bottomed out with three missed field goals and a missed extra point in Saturday night’s 20-12 win over the Oakland Raiders at TCF Bank Stadium.

Asked after the game if he’s now concerned about Walsh, who has made just 2 of 6 field-goal attempts in three preseason games, head coach Mike Zimmer said, “Yeah. A lot of things concern me. Not just that.”

It wasn’t supposed to be this way after the Vikings gave Walsh a four-year, $14 million contract extension that will make him the fourth-highest paid kicker in the league.

Yes, Walsh was coming off the worst of his three NFL seasons with a league-low 74.3 conversion percentage on field goals. But the 2012 first-team All-Pro still has one of the league’s most reliable long-range legs and was given somewhat of a pass because last season was the first of two home seasons to be played outdoors as the new Vikings stadium is being built.

Last year, Walsh seemed to over-think the elements and wind patterns at TCF Bank Stadium. Saturday night might have been the perfect storm, both figuratively and literally.

The game was delayed about an hour because of storms. The official gamebook listed the wind at 17 miles per hour.

Walsh missed a 35-yard field goal and a 33-yard extra point wide right. Then, in the fourth quarter, he missed a field goal wide left from 38 yards and another from 49 to the right.

Zimmer was asked if the weather was to blame.

“I don’t know,” he said. “You’ll have to ask him.”

Walsh, naturally, didn’t say weather was to blame. Of course, even if it were, he would never tell the media that it was.

“I didn’t feel real good with how I hit the ball,” Walsh said. “Obviously, the results are bad. I have to do better. Preseason or regular season, that can’t happen.”

Walsh also said the ongoing battle at long snapper between long-time incumbent Cullen Loeffler and Kevin McDermott wasn’t a factor. But, again, he wouldn’t admit it publicly even if that were the case. And the Vikings took care of that distraction Monday morning when they released Loeffler, their long snapper since 2004.

As a rookie, Walsh missed only three of 38 attempts. He set an NFL record by making 10 of 10 from 50 yards and beyond.

In some sense, he is still riding the credibility of that rookie season. A year later, he missed only four of 30 attempts, but was 2-for-5 from 50 and beyond. Last year, he missed nine of 35 attempts, but one was blocked and one was a desperation 68-yard attempt.

“I’m just going to do what I’ve been doing the last three years,” Walsh said. “You miss, you got to look at your next kick as the only kick you have left. Take each kick one at a time. I know that sounds cliche, but that’s what keeps you in the league and that’s what keeps you around.”

As for the snapping situation, the Vikings felt they couldn’t wait any longer to make their decision so they released Loeffler in favor of keeping McDermott, who has snapped in 23 regular-season games for the 49ers and Ravens.

“Basically, it was to get the timing down between the center, holder and kicker and punter,” said Zimmer, referring to the timing of the release on Monday morning.

Zimmer said the decision wasn’t based on Walsh missing three field goals and an extra point in Saturday night’s preseason game against the Raiders.

“No, they were good snaps the other night,” Zimmer said. “A couple of them were high. There were about two of them on the extra point and field goals that were a little bit high. They were manageable for sure. Releasing Cullen Loeffler had nothing to do with what happened the other night. It was the process of what happened in training camp this whole time.”

As for why McDermott won the job, Zimmer said, “He was faster with his snaps. He was more accurate with his snaps. We charted every one.”

Notes: For the first time since the 12th game of last season, outside linebacker Anthony Barr was in uniform for a game Saturday. The ninth overall draft pick a year ago was in the thick of the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year race when a knee injury slowed him in the 12th game and then knocked him out of the final four games. Barr had one tackle and a pass defensed.


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