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Zulgad’s 3-and-out: Will Blair Walsh be motivated or even more rattled knowing job is on the line?

By Judd Zulgad

The Vikings had three good reasons to explore their options at kicker this week after Blair Walsh’s latest meltdown in Sunday’s loss at Detroit.

Walsh missed an extra-point attempt – his third of the season – had a field-goal attempt blocked and then booted a kickoff into the end zone that was supposed to land inside the Lions’ 10-yard line after Minnesota took a late lead. That advantage was lost, in part, because Walsh did not execute his assignment.

When coach Mike Zimmer announced the Vikings would be taking a look at available kickers on Tuesday, and then six free agents were brought in, the assumption was made the team would make a change.

That didn’t turn out to be the case.

Walsh, who missed nine field-goal attempts in 2014 and then yanked a 27-yard attempt wide left to help cost the Vikings a playoff victory over Seattle last January, remains employed in Minnesota and will handle the kicking duties on Sunday in Washington.

The Vikings’ decision to look at other kickers wasn’t a surprise, but one has to wonder whether that was the smart play if they did not intend to replace Walsh. Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said Thursday that bringing in kickers, “kind of lit a fire under (Walsh),” adding, “he got ticked off in a good way.”

That’s great if that’s really the case, but you have to wonder if Priefer really felt that way or was trying to convince himself that Walsh was motivated by the move to look at free agents and, thus, would show improvement.

Hearing Walsh get short with reporters after Sunday’s game, it did not feel as if he needed to be motivated. This wasn’t the case of a guy who had become complacent or lazy. Walsh, who signed a four-year contract extension worth up to $13 million before the 2015 season, is a guy who has lost his confidence and, unfortunately for him, when the pressure mounts the worse it seems to get.

This is a player more in need of a sports psychologist than a boot in the behind.

You get the idea that before a field goal or extra point, Walsh is thinking, “Don’t miss. Don’t miss. Don’t miss.”

It’s logical to assume that Walsh could be kicking for his job on Sunday. It’s also logical to assume that the pressure of knowing this will follow him onto the field at key moments.

This wouldn’t seem like a recipe for success.

The Vikings’ offense is averaging only 19.4 points per game, ranking 25th in the NFL, so odds are good Walsh will have to have a good day on Sunday in order for the Vikings to win.

Will knowing his roster spot might be on the line help Walsh make kicks? I don’t think so, but the Vikings only choice is to cross their fingers that the answer is yes.

Didn’t see that coming

It did not come as a surprise that the Twins elected not to bring back hitting coach Tom Brunansky and first base coach Butch Davis, but what was unexpected was that those were the only two coaches from manager Paul Molitor’s staff to be jettisoned by the new front office team of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine.

It was widely assumed that Neil Allen would not be retained, but it turns out the pitching coach will be back. Falvey, the Twins’ chief baseball officer, is known for his expertise in the area of pitching and evidently he liked what he heard from Allen.

“I know a lot has been made of the pitching program and what we’re going to do as an organization, and Neil was very supportive of that direction,” Falvey told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “I have every expectation that we will be able to build the program that we’re looking for, and Neil will champion that.”

Allen is one of five members of Molitor’s coaching staff who will be back in the dugout following a franchise-worst 103 loss season.

Allen was suspended by the Twins’ organization in late May of last season after being arrested for drunken driving and returned to the field in early July after going through an outpatient treatment program.

He also oversaw a pitching staff that had a 5.08 earned-run average, second-worst in the major leagues to Arizona’s 5.09 ERA.

There would appear to be a good chance that Falvey and Levine simply want to spend 2017 observing and that major changes with the big-league club won’t come until the following year.

Final thoughts

Can anyone explain why the Wild played two games in 10 days but starting Saturday will play five games in eight days? If that’s what the computer spit out, why didn’t someone sit down and fix it? Silly.

The Gophers and North Dakota played to a tie last Friday, before the Gophers shut out the Fighting Hawks on Saturday. Seeing the series resume was fantastic — the rivalry picked up as if it had never stopped — but it also was a sad reminder that these two schools are no longer WCHA rivals playing for actual points in the standings. This was a hockey series that left you wanting more.

New Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau isn’t pleased with his team’s 2-5 start, and the defense isn’t close to being where Thibodeau wants it. The good news is that, much as Zimmer did not rest until the Vikings’ defense started to play to the level he wanted, Thibodeau is going to get the Wolves playing the type of tough defense he demands. The only question is how much time will it take.

The post Zulgad’s 3-and-out: Will Blair Walsh be motivated or even more rattled knowing job is on the line? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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