There will be a temptation for Vikings fans, until Daniel Carlson makes his first big kick, to look at the rookie and see Blair Walsh.
Like Walsh, Carlson kicked in the SEC and came to the Vikings after struggling with field-goal accuracy during his senior season more than any other in his college career. Like Walsh, Carlson impressed special teams coordinator Mike Priefer with his leg strength, showing it off in a pre-draft workout. And like they did after drafting Walsh, the Vikings released a veteran kicker following their fifth-round selection of Carlson this spring; Kai Forbath might not have been as accomplished as Ryan Longwell (whom the Vikings released for Walsh), but he got more time to compete with Carlson for the starting job than Longwell did against Walsh.
The parallels, obvious though they may be, might paint an overly simplified picture of what Carlson is facing as a rookie in Minnesota — and they might discount what Walsh did as a rookie, earning All-Pro honors while drilling 10 field goals of 50-plus yards in 2012 for a team that went from 3-13 to a playoff berth.
But for a fan base given to postseason jitters, Walsh will be remembered in Minnesota for one kick — his infamous 27-yard miss against the Seahawks in the 2016 NFC wild-card playoffs. And as Carlson assumes field goal and extra-point duties for a team harboring Super Bowl aspirations, it’s possible the Vikings’ chances to overturn their fraught playoff history could rest on the rookie’s right leg in January.
“Blair, I like Blair a lot. I think Blair is a very, very good kicker. Blair was kind of, I don’t want to say a nervous personality, but Daniel is very calm,” Priefer said. “Because I think it worked for both guys. Blair, obviously had a phenomenal first year and he’s done some great things in this league. We hope Daniel can repeat the first year that Blair had. But, they’re two different kids and two different people.”
After pulling two field-goal attempts left in a preseason game against the Seahawks, Carlson talked after the game about his calm and focused demeanor. He’ll have to count on it in the coming months as the stakes on his field-goal attempts are raised.
“I think I’m very focused, and I do care a lot about my performance,” he said. “I want to be a perfectionist, so times like these are frustrating. But you got to keep your head up and do what you can to fix the next one, because there’s obviously nothing I can do about those kicks today. But I’m going to learn from it, move on and continue to try and be consistent and keep my head in every situation.”