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Associated Press, Published August 08 2012

Vikings rookie kicker ready for 1st preseason game kicks

MANKATO, Minn. – The Minnesota Vikings coaches and defensive players have been trying to distract rookie kicker Blair Walsh as much as possible during practice as part of the breaking-in process at this pressure-packed position.

The other specialists on the team have been busy making Walsh as comfortable as they can.

This Friday, when the Vikings visit San Francisco to start the preseason, they’ll find out a little bit about the impact of their efforts.

“I’m looking forward to getting out there and kicking in front of some people and wearing that purple uniform,” said Walsh, a sixth-round draft pick from Georgia.

Walsh has missed a few midrange field goals in full-team situations, but he has shown off the strength of his leg, too. He ended a recent practice by booming a 57-yard try, with room to spare, straight through the uprights.

“He’s remained composed, so that’s a good sign,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “We talked at length about this decision throughout the offseason. So once we made that decision, you’ve got to go full speed ahead with it. So that’s where we are. No looking back now. He’s our kicker.”

The Vikings let veteran Ryan Longwell go in May at the suggestion of special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, whose belief in Walsh fueled that feeling. His performance in spring practices and for most of training camp hasn’t made that support look silly at all.

“I’m not surprised by it. I kind of expected it and so did he, not in an arrogant way but in a very confident manner,” Priefer said.

Linebacker Erin Henderson is among the veterans on the field goal block team who’ve done their part to innocently taunt Walsh when he lines up to kick.

“So far so good. We’ll see what happens when the pressure turns up a little bit,” Henderson said.

Holder Chris Kluwe and long snapper Cullen Loeffler were close friends with Longwell, so his departure was difficult. But they’ve found a rhythm with Walsh relatively quickly.

“Blair is getting accustomed to us. We’re getting accustomed to him. And I think we’re poised to have a pretty good year,” Kluwe said.

Kluwe, also the punter, said he needed about six weeks to get in sync with Walsh, as far as how he wants the ball tilted and exactly where he wants it placed.

“My job is to make sure that he doesn’t have to think about anything except to kick,” Kluwe said.

Which is plenty responsibility for a rookie.

“You’re no longer a student. This is professionals playing football for a living, and you have to go out there and be dependable,” Walsh said.