EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Blair Walsh’s rookie season for the Minnesota Vikings has come with the expected new experiences for the native Floridian.
During the first snowstorm of the winter in early December, punter Chris Kluwe chronicled Walsh’s initial attempts to drive in the snow with a series of tweets that included: “As we leave the parking garage, @BlairWalsh3 says “Are there any buttons I should hit to drive in this?”
And: “Now @BlairWalsh3 is learning what an anti-lock braking system is. ‘Are my brakes exploding?’ ‘No Blair, that’s keeping you from skidding.’ “
Walsh was protected from the elements when he was kicking indoors at the Metrodome, though. There will be no protection this week when Minnesota travels to Green Bay for Saturday night’s playoff game.
“It will be a big test for me this weekend,” said Walsh, a Pro Bowl selection this season for making 35 of 38 field-goal attempts, including all 10 of his tries from 50 or more yards.
Walsh grew up in Boca Raton, Fla., and played college football at Georgia. He isn’t used to kicking, or driving, in extreme weather. Saturday, the temperatures in Green Bay are expected to be in the low 20s, though snow isn’t in the forecast.
Walsh’s coldest game to date?
“Probably one of the outdoor games we’ve played in this year,” he said. “Playing in the SEC, you don’t really get many cold opportunities. It will be a test for me for sure.”
To be precise, Walsh’s coldest game was at Soldier Field earlier this season on a 41-degree, partly-cloudy day in Chicago. When Minnesota played at Lambeau Field earlier this year, it was 45 degrees. Two of his three misses this season were outdoors. To acclimate for Saturday’s game, the Vikings opened up the garage door and a few smaller doors to their indoor field house. Coach Leslie Frazier estimated the temperature ranged from 25 to 35 degrees depending on location in the field house and the distance from the garage door.
With their outdoor fields covered in snow, Minnesota didn’t have the chance to practice outside, which means much of Walsh’s rehearsal will need to come pregame Saturday. Walsh knows his distance will be stunted Sunday, but just as important is his accuracy.
“I think you’ve got to make sure you’re not too wild and crazy with your approach and your feet are underneath you the whole time,” Walsh said of the likely slippery conditions. “That’s a big key to it. You don’t want to slip or fall on your way to the ball. You’ve got to make sure you’re under control.”
Throughout his standout rookie season, Walsh’s mental approach has been praised. Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said he won’t try to put too much mentally on Walsh. The key will be pregame work, though Priefer said even then the practice won’t be much more extensive than usual.
“Not this time of year,” Priefer said of taking extra practice reps. “Maybe if it was earlier in the year, but I want to keep his leg fresh as possible. I think we’ll have a good idea after his normal routine if we need a few extra kicks because of the footing one side or the other, or the wind or the crosswind or whatever the case may be. We’ll spend a couple of extra kicks doing that, but I think after a good, solid pregame, we’ll know.”
Walsh is ready for the latest challenge in his rookie season.
“Yeah, you’ve just got to go out there and really simplify what you’re doing,” he said. “Don’t think about the situation or the elements or how cold it is or how miserable you feel. You just have to go out there and hit the ball.”