ATHENS - Blair Walsh is back in Athens this semester, after wrapping up one of the more remarkable NFL rookie seasons: Walsh went from struggling immensely during his senior season as Georgia's kicker, to making the Pro Bowl for a playoff team, the Minnesota Vikings.
Walsh said he's taking a few classes this semester, and hopes to take a few more online this fall in order to finish up his degree.
"I want to do it for my parents, and also for myself. I want the degree," Walsh said. "I put the time in here to get it, so I should get it."
I spoke to Walsh for a story that will run in Sunday's papers, discussing his whirlwind season, his turnaround, and the front-row seat he's had to the Vikings season: Adrian Peterson's comeback, kicking in Lambeau Field, and making the Pro Bowl.
But one tidbit I won't wait to pass along, given it generated some discussion in these parts, is what Walsh had to say about how he turned things around this past season. (Walsh was 35-for-38 on field goal attempts for the Vikings, and 10-for-10 from beyond 50 yards. This was after a senior season at Georgia in which he was only 21-of-35, and 2-for-5 from beyond 50 yards.)
Walsh said the special teams coach for the Minnesota Vikings, Mike Priefer, diagnosed his problem very quickly: He was rushing his kicks.
"He sort of stepped back and said I was coming to fast to the ball, and I wasn't spending enough time really looking at the ball," Walsh said. "And that's a result of going too fast. So we slowed it down a little bit. That in turn made my swing a little bit better, and made my mechanics a little bit better as well, which needed to happen. I went back and looked at it from a different perspective than I had when I was in season. Once I had the time and the ability to really just change a couple things and focus on those changes, we were really able to have some success with that."
Walsh said he wasn't really rushing his kicks as a sophomore and junior at Georgia, when he had outstanding seasons. And when it happened as a senior, it was too hard to analyze quickly and make the necessary change.
"Yeah, it was just something that sort of developed," Walsh said. "I wasn't able to really step back and look at because we were so into the season, and you just kind of get ready each week, and you don't really want to make wholesale changes in the season, that's never gonna end up good. We just needed that extra time to really look at it and put it to work."
Georgia very famously does not have a special teams coordinator. I asked Walsh if an assistant coach just for special teams would have been able to fix the issue during the season.
"It's tough to speculate. I can't necessarily tell you off-hand if that really would've helped or not," Walsh said. "It's tough to make the changes in season regardless of whether you have a coach or not, in my opinion. Once the season starts you're pretty much set in what your form is, and what your technique is. Yeah you make a couple tweaks to it during the season, but no wholesale changes. So I don't know. I don't know where I stand on that issue. ...
“Special teams coaches are more there really to analyze things with you, whereas kicking coaches know more honestly about the swing and that kind of stuff,” Walsh said.
Georgia head coach Mark Richt has said he will try to to become his team's kicking coach, after doing some research on the kicking process. Walsh said he would be happy to give Richt some consulting help while he's in Athens during the offseason.
“I would definitely be willing to help talk to him about it," Walsh said. "I’m sure I’ll see him in the next few coming days, and we’ll probably discuss it a little bit. But if he wants to do it and really take an interest in it, I think he can. As long as he consults the right people. I know Drew’s dad (Kevin) is always around here as well, and he’s a good guy to consult about it, and learn about it. If you just study the position you can be of help to your guys in college, for sure.”
I wasn't able to get this in the story that will run on Sunday, so I'll publish it here:
- Walsh had a front-row seat to the near-historic season of Adrian Peterson. The Vikings running back had a remarkable recovery from ACL surgery and almost broke the single-season rushing record.
“He’s a freak of nature when it comes to his physical ability. I think a lot of it was his ability to rehab as fast as he did, and nobody wants it more than Adrian. I believe he’ll break the (single-season rushing) record, whether it’s this year or next year. He’s so committed and so hungry to get yards and just help us win, and carry us to wins. And he’s doing that. He’s a testament to how good a player he is.”
- Walsh is the less famous of the team's kicking specialists: Punter Chris Kluwe has made a name for himself nationally for his public support of gay marriage, and last week was a guest on the "Colbert Report."
“He’s a really good guy," Walsh said of Kluwe. "People sort of view him as this wild and crazy guy, throwing stuff around and opinions. But he’s very laid-back and relaxed when it comes to the work environment. You’re able to have a really good conversation with him and you don’t feel like you’re talking to someone who’s talking down to you. He’s a really good guy though. I saw (the Colbert Report) as well, it was pretty funny.”
- Walsh said he spoke every week during the season with Drew Butler, his former college teammate who punted this year for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“We talk about each other’s games, and he had a good season with the Steelers, and I think he’s building himself up for a good career there,” Walsh said.