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Zulgad: Vikings’ willingness to gamble on rookie kicker a surprise given the stakes

By Judd Zulgad

Any thought the Vikings actually had a training-camp kicking competition came to an end on Saturday afternoon when Kai Forbath hit the right upright with his 41-yard field-goal attempt in the second quarter against Jacksonville.

The only question after Forbath’s miss was how much longer this charade would continue?

We got the answer on Monday morning when the Vikings announced that Forbath had been released. That leaves Daniel Carlson as the only kicker on the roster, something that comes as no surprise considering the Vikings traded up in order to take him in the fifth round of last April’s draft.

Carlson got the field-goal and extra-point chances ahead of Forbath in the Vikings’ preseason opener in Denver and hit on attempts of 39 and 57 yards in the rarefied air. Carlson was given the opportunity to attempt the Vikings’ only extra-point on Saturday and made it after Mike Boone’s 1-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.

Forbath likely was sending out resumes by that point, if he hadn’t already started to do so.

The Vikings are moving on from Forbath after he missed six of his 38 field-goal attempts and five of his 39 extra-point attempts in 2017. He was signed to a one-year, $790,000 contract in March but the contract wasn’t guaranteed, meaning there was no real job security.

There are at least two things I consider to be confusing about the Vikings’ approach to the 2018 season. Coming off a 13-3 finish and an appearance in the NFC title game, it remains a mystery why the Vikings did not trade up in the second round to grab a much-needed guard for an offensive line that is in even worse shape than expected because of injuries.

The theory has been that coach Mike Zimmer wanted to take cornerback Mike Hughes late in the first round — thus passing on a guard — but there was nothing stopping the Vikings from paying the price to move up in Round 2. Instead, general manager Rick Spielman stayed put and took project offensive tackle Brian O’Neill with the 62nd pick.

I have no problem with grabbing a cornerback in the opening round, but it’s perplexing why a team expected to make a run at the Super Bowl wouldn’t be more proactive to address its issues at guard. Especially when Kirk Cousins, the quarterback you signed to an $84 million contract, isn’t exactly known for his mobility.

The second thing that surprises is the decision to go with a rookie kicker who has a huge leg but is coming off statistically the worst season of his collegiate career. Carlson made 28-of-32 field-goal attempts during his junior season at Auburn but last season made only 23-of-31 attempts.

If the Vikings electing to take an SEC kicker coming off a down season sounds familiar it should. Blair Walsh, the Vikings’ sixth-round pick in 2012 had his struggles in his final year at Georgia (he made 21-of-35 field-goal attempts), but special teams coordinator Mike Priefer was convinced he could fix Walsh.

Walsh did have a fantastic rookie season with the Vikings, making 35-of-38 field-goal attempts, including an NFL record 10-of-10 from 50 or more yards, as he was elected to the Pro Bowl. But whatever fix Priefer had found for Walsh did not last and he began to ride the kicking roller-coaster as the Vikings hoped he would get through his struggles.

Walsh’s 27-yard miss wide to the right cost the Vikings a chance to beat Seattle in a first-round playoff game during the 2015 season and his continued struggles into the following season finally cost him his job in November 2016. The Vikings turned to Forbath, who entered the NFL in 2012 with Washington and also had kicked for New Orleans.

Clearly, the Vikings are hoping that Carlson can have the type of impact Walsh did as a rookie but there might be some flawed thinking here. Walsh was drafted with the Vikings coming off a 3-13 finish in 2011, meaning he joined team that had few expectations and was thrilled to rebound and finish 10-6 to grab a wild card playoff berth in 2012 under Leslie Frazier.

Carlson is stepping into a situation where the pressure will be intense from day one and, if things go as planned for the Vikings, will only grow as the season progresses.

An argument can be made that turning away from Forbath is the right call, given his struggles in making extra points. That kick was moved from a 20-yard attempt to 33 yards in 2015. In 25 games with the Vikings, including playoffs, Forbath made 48-of-56 (85.7 percent) extra-point attempts.

But Forbath also made a career-high seven field goals from 50 or more yards last season and he hit on 3-of-4 attempts in the NFC divisional playoffs against New Orleans. That included field goals of 49 and 53 yards in the fourth quarter of the Vikings’ miraculous last-second win over the Saints at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Nonetheless, if the Vikings felt it was best to bring in a different kicker why wouldn’t it have been a veteran? Someone who had made key field goals and extra points with the playoff pressure on them.

This isn’t to say that Carlson is certain to fail. It just seems odd that given the expectations facing the Vikings they are willing to take a chance on such an important position.

The post Zulgad: Vikings’ willingness to gamble on rookie kicker a surprise given the stakes appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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