Vikings kicker Blair Walsh's struggles have been fodder for talk radio since the preseason. Last Sunday was no different. Walsh, one of the NFL's top-paid kickers, chunked a point-after in Week 2's win against Detroit.
The fellas on The Fan's Power Trip Morning Show were in full armchair quarterback mode on Monday morning. Chris Hawkey, Cory Cove, and Paul Lambert discussed the prospect of the team letting Walsh go, eating his contract, and signing another kicker. They also proffered bringing in another leg to challenge the incumbent with the hope it might ignite Walsh's competitive fire.
Meanwhile, a KFAN blog titled "It’s Time To Address The Kicking Issue" read, "It’s only going to be a matter of time before one of Blair’s misses cost the Vikings a game."
Dr. Justin Anderson feels for the beleaguered kicker. He owns Premier Sport Psychology and has worked with athletes from collegiate to Olympic, high school to professional.
"My experience with other elite athletes is what can happen is once they get to the top, they stop looking up," says Anderson. "They begin to start think about what could go wrong. They start looking down where they could fall."
Walsh's total book of work provides some context.
He's always possessed a bionic leg. At Fort Lauderdale's Cardinal Gibbons High School, Walsh twice converted field goals from 59 yards.
At the University of Georgia, Walsh was dubbed the "Athens Assassin" for splitting the uprights from distant area codes, including a 56-yard launch his senior year.
Yet consistency has never been his strength. During his stint as a Bulldog, he missed one extra point in 185 tries, but converted on only 76 of 103 field goals. During his senior year Walsh made just 21 of 35 from three-point land.
The Vikings made him their sixth round draft pick in 2012. He didn't disappoint. After vanquishing veteran Ryan Longwell, he was perfect early on, making six field goals from 50 yards or greater. Walsh was the only rookie to be named to the 2012 AP All-Pro First Team. Last season he was selected as the NFC North Kicker of the Year. The Vikes rewarded him with a four-year contract extension worth up to $14 million, including $5.25 million in guaranteed money.
Anderson surmises the kicker's problems come from the fact there's no new mountain to ascend.
"… As a NFL rookie or when he was coming into college, he was sort of climbing the mountain, and he had a lot less to lose," he says. "For smarter guys than say the stereotypical 'dumb' jocks, it's about climbing the mountain. My guess with him is he's a smarter guy and as he's become [more successful in his career] he thinks he's got more to lose. He's already climbed. He's already got the millions of dollars and so now he's on top of the mountain and he doesn't have to climb anymore. The thing about confidence is that it's so fragile. As soon as you start to think 'Do I have it? Do I not have it?' doubt creeps in."
Anderson agrees the pressure will only prove more suffocating in the coming weeks: "He's in a bit of tailspin now and it's only going to get more heavy."
But he thinks a rash move by the team or overtures of threat isn't the smart play.
"I wonder if [the team] is bringing in somebody to work with him on the mental side," Anderson says. "I would certainly hope that they do.… It's worth a shot. I mean, they already have millions of dollars invested in this guy. A couple additional thousand would definitely be a wise advisement."
The good news for Walsh is he's already proven he can be an elite kicker, according to Anderson. Now he has to work his way through the sludge between his ears.
"When there's performance at a peak level, it flows," says Anderson. "There's a fine line between prying and letting. The good news is we already know it's in there, but right now there's some things blocking him and my guess it's these little blips of doubt or hiccups that's distracting him during his process of kicking that's getting in the way.
"The nice thing about sport is the mind is just an obstacle.… The big thing here is he can have these thoughts, but he can still put his foot on the ball. I would care a lot less about kicking than where is his focus is, meaning if his focus is on doubt or worry and not on the behavior. And the behavior here is one step, two steps, put your foot on the ball."