MANKATO, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings pulled a surprise when they selected kicker Blair Walsh in the sixth round of April’s draft.
But Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman said after releasing veteran Ryan Longwell the move had been in consideration long before the draft, back to January when the team was conducting its evaluations after last season. And apparently the decision didn’t originate with Spielman.
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said Thursday that he offered the suggestion of replacing Longwell, who ranks second among all kickers in team scoring and has the top field goal percentage in team history.
“I recommended we do what we did,” Priefer said. “Rick and (coach Leslie Frazier), we were all on the same page. It was a tough deal because he’s been a great kicker in this league for a long time. I just thought for the future of this team kickoff-wise and even field goal-wise, I thought it was the best move.”
It wasn’t an easy thing to do for Priefer, who said the two had played “phone tag” and exchanged text messages calling the conversation between he and Longwell “very amicable.” But after seeing how the kickoffs were affected last season with the rule change of moving the spot of the kickoff up to the 35-yard line, he felt it was in the Vikings’ best interest to find someone with a stronger leg.
Walsh has a big leg, one of the big draws in his status as one of the top kickers in the draft. At Georgia, he converted at least two field goals of at least 50 yards each season. He was 10 for 17 from 50-plus, including a career-long 56-yarder last season. In the first week of training camp, Walsh has had limited opportunities to kickoff, but regularly puts the ball into the end zone.
Priefer, in his second year as the Minnesota’s special teams coordinator, said every team has a returner that is worrisome, which means replacing Longwell with Walsh’s deeper kickoffs should ease some of his concern.
“When we can get a touchback, I think I’m going to take the touchback,” Priefer said. “It makes me sleep a lot easier at night.”
The rule change last season caused teams to adjust and adapt and Priefer said it took half of the season to discover the affect on kickoff returns. Clearly, having deeper kickoffs is Priefer’s preferred method.Less than two weeks after drafting Walsh, the Vikings released Longwell rather than
letting the veteran compete against the rookie in training camp. Minnesota hasn’t brought another kicker into camp, instead focusing on getting Walsh ready for the season.
But Priefer doesn’t consider Walsh unchallenged and has told the rookie as much.
“To me, every day is a challenge,” Priefer said. “Like I told him when we drafted him and brought him in for that rookie minicamp, we were about to make the decision to let our veteran go. When we finally did let Ryan go, I sat him down and actually called him first because it was right after the rookie minicamp. He came back and I said you are now competing against every kicker in the league who is not on a roster or every second kicker in the league who is on somebody’s roster but is the guy that is going to get cut. I think he takes it very seriously. He is a very hard worker.”
Brown, Todman leave practice: Tackle Patrick Brown and running back Jordan Todman each left Thursday afternoon’s padded practice with injuries, joining a growing list of players dinged up.
Brown, who played in 15 games as a reserve last season, suffered a medial collateral ligament injury and watched the remainder of practice from the sideline and was noticeably limping. Frazier said Brown was going to be checked out again after practice, but the initial diagnosis is that Brown’s injury likely isn’t as bad as tight end John Carlson’s, who has a Grade-2 sprain and is out at least a week. Carlson has been a participant in meetings and watching practice with a brace on his knee.
Todman suffered a sprained ankle while participating in 11-on-11 goal line drills, but did later return to the sideline and Frazier said he is day-to-day.
Cornerback Josh Robinson (hamstring) has increased his activity, and was in pads for Thursday afternoon’s practice, but didn’t participate in the drills. Frazier said safety Robert Blanton (hamstring) is still in the early stages of his recovery.
DeMarcus Love remains sidelined with a shoulder injury. Meanwhile, receiver Stephen Burton (jammed toe) and Mickey Shuler (heel) have both returned to practice full-time.
Running back Adrian Peterson is still doing his rehab and Frazier feels he’s getting closer, but isn’t ready to begin practicing with the rest of the team yet.
Cornerback Antoine Winfield was in pads Thursday afternoon, but didn’t practice. Frazier said he was just resting.
“A little R and R, taking care of him a little bit,” Frazier said. “We’ve got a long ways to go.”