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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Zulgad: Vikings hope rookie gets his kicks, but Forbath kept around just in case

By Judd Zulgad

The Vikings surprised many by selecting kicker Blair Walsh of Georgia in the sixth round of the 2012 draft.

Reliable veteran Ryan Longwell had three seasons and $7 million left on a four-year contract he had signed the previous summer and the team saw an opportunity to save money while hoping they were getting increased leg strength. A little more than a week after taking Walsh, Longwell was jettisoned.

The Vikings confidence in Walsh was such that no other kicker was brought to camp to challenge him. Walsh rewarded the Vikings with an outstanding rookie season as he made 92.1 percent of his kicks and 10-of-10 from 50-plus yards. That earned him a Pro Bowl berth, but things soon turned rocky. Walsh hit on 86.7 percent of his attempts in 2013; 74.3 percent in 2014; 87.2 percent in 2015; and 75 percent in 2016.

That final season came after Walsh had missed a potential game-winning 27-yard attempt wide left with 26 seconds remaining in a playoff game against Seattle on a frigid day at TCF Bank Stadium. Walsh was cut by the Vikings on Nov. 15, 2016 after going a woeful 12-of-16 on field-goal attempts in nine games.

He was replaced the next day by Kai Forbath. Forbath hasn’t been great — he has especially struggled with extra-point attempts now spotted at the 15-yard line — but it was assumed that general manager Rick Spielman was out of the business of drafting kickers.

That proved to be a flawed assumption.

Spielman decided to make Daniel Carlson the highest-drafted kicker in Vikings history in April, trading up to take the 23-year-old with the 167th overall selection in the fifth round. Carlson, like Walsh, played his college football in the SEC, having finished as the conference’s career scoring leader with 480 points and 92 field-goals made at Auburn.

But while Walsh and Carlson might have played in the same conference, and the Vikings showed great faith in both, there is one big difference in how the team handled their situations. While Walsh began his professional career running unopposed for the kicking job, Carlson won’t be given the same luxury.

Forbath, who signed a one-year, $790,000 (base salary) contract in March to return to Minnesota, was not released after Carlson was drafted. This will set up an interesting competition between the two — one in which you have to think the youngster has an enormous advantage. Forbath’s contract includes no guaranteed money and makes him easy to cut. That contract also made him easy to hold onto for now.

Carlson got a head start Wednesday as the Vikings’ opened training camp with their rookies on the field at their new facility in Eagan. Forbath will report with the rest of the veterans later this week and take part in the first full practice on Saturday.

“We have a great relationship,” Carlson said after Wednesday’s practice, attempting to downplay the fact there might be some friction with Forbath. “We work with each other in practice and we’ve got an opportunity just to kind of feed off of each other. But obviously it’s also a competition, so there’s that side of it, too, where we’re trying to push each other. It’s gone great so far and I’m looking forward to continuing it over the rest of camp.”

Carlson was a soccer player during his high school years in Colorado Springs, but said his transition to football began when a family friend from his church recruited him to start kicking. “I eventually found out I was pretty good at it so it worked out,” he said.

The 6-foot-5, 213-pound Carlson has the ability to boom the ball. That impressed Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer as Carlson made all 15 of his field-goal attempts in a private workout. If Priefer being impressed by a college kicker sounds familiar it should. Walsh was able to do the same thing.

One reason Forbath might have been kept around was because Carlson’s accuracy fell to 74 percent last season as he had three kicks blocked. A big leg doesn’t mean much if there isn’t accuracy to go along with it. Carlson, though, sounded cool and calm on Wednesday as he discussed his craft and the pressure that will only increase as he moves from the SEC to the NFL.

“You’ve got to not let the moment get too big,” he said. “We practice these kicks millions and millions of times on the practice fields. It’s no different when there’s 11 guys rushing at you and 100,000 people watching, millions on TV. Whatever it is, it’s the same. So you’ve just got to knock it through the pipes every time.”

The Vikings have to be hoping Carlson can do exactly that in this camp and for years to come. If he can’t, Forbath might have a chance to keep his job and Spielman definitely will be out of the business of drafting kickers.

The post Zulgad: Vikings hope rookie gets his kicks, but Forbath kept around just in case appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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