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USA TODAY Sports Minnesota kicker Blair Walsh, right, kicks a 34-yard field goal as punter Jeff Locke holds against the Chicago Bears on Dec. 1 at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.

Vikings kicker Blair Walsh obviously digs the long ball

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By Chris Tomasson

St. Paul Pioneer Press

MINNEAPOLIS — A kicking show began last week well before kickoff.

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Blair Walsh took the field about two hours before the Vikings’ preseason opener against Oakland at TCF Bank Stadium, and booted a 69-yard field goal and made five of seven attempted between 60 and 69 yards.

Expect another show at TCF before the second preseason game Saturday, when Minnesota faces Arizona. The Vikings kicker would love for it to continue during the game.

Walsh, who broke into the NFL in 2012, set a league record last year by making 12 straight field goals of 50 or more yards. He then missed his final three from that range, although a leg injury played a role in that.

Despite his pregame heroics, Walsh missed a 53-yard attempt wide right in the third quarter of the Vikings’ 10-6 win last week. First-year coach Mike Zimmer said after the game he regretted going for the field goal on fourth and 1, saying he got “greedy.”

Walsh had no qualms with what Zimmer said. But Walsh let it be known Zimmer should have no problem sending him out for long kicks when the games start to count.

“I understand exactly what he’s saying with the field-position thing,” Walsh said. “He’s seen my range, and he’s seen me hit out here (beyond 50) plenty of times, and I think my records speak for themselves. And I think he’ll be comfortable hitting 50s with me in the season.”

Zimmer was asked earlier this week why he regretted attempting the long field goal with Minnesota leading 10-0 and at the Oakland 35. He said there was a certain “situation” the Vikings have been practicing that perhaps he could have looked at.

“I wish I would have went to that situation and then we either got the first down or we punted the ball or we kicked the field goal,” Zimmer said. “It was good for (Walsh) to get in this stadium to kick and we know how the wind goes in that stadium.”

The Vikings were playing their first game in what will be a two-year run outdoors at TCF after having played indoors at the now-demolished Metrodome. Moving forward, Walsh and Zimmer will have to figure out exactly what the third-year kicker’s range is.

There appears to at least be a slight disagreement.

“I think anything in the 50s, even with the wind (against him),” Walsh said. “I think anything in the 50s is a realistic shot to make it. If you can’t hit a 50-yard field goal in that range in any conditions, you shouldn’t be in the NFL.”

Zimmer, though, might be paying more attention to the elements. He was asked how far Walsh’s range extends.

“Well, conditions vary,” Zimmer said. “But he can pound it. It really just depends on the situation. If it’s the end of the ballgame and we got to have a 60-yarder, then he’s going to get a shot to kick it. If the wind is howling and going the other way, (his range) might be where the extra point is now (33 yards during the first two weeks of the preseason).”

There’s no doubt about Walsh’s leg strength. He said in practice he has booted a 74-yard field goal using sticks, rather than a holder, and with a 20-mph wind behind him.

The 69-yarder he made last week off sticks actually was four yards farther than his longest ever made before a game at the Metrodome. While many believe it could hamper Walsh’s kicking to be outdoors for home games, he said that might not always be the case.

“It doesn’t travel as far when it’s completely dead still inside a dome,” Walsh said. “But at the same time you got to deal with the wind (although sometimes it is an advantage).”

Walsh’s career-long field goal in an NFL regular-season game is 56 yards indoors at Houston in 2012. He also kicked a 55-yarder outdoors at Seattle in 2012.

Walsh said having a slight breeze behind him helped in last week’s tape-measure pregame kicks. He called TCF a “nice stadium” for kicking even though “it’s definitely open and you’re going to get the conditions.”

Walsh, who did make a 30-yarder against the Raiders, dismissed his miss from 53 as having occurred in the preseason. But he did miss field goals last year of 54, 55 and 57 yards. The 54-yarder ended his record streak and happened when he was bothered by a leg injury.

“It’s just one of those things where once you hit another (long) one, you’ll get right back in the rhythm,” he said. “I haven’t lost any leg strength. I think I’m actually stronger now. It’s something that once you hit that one, you’ll get over it and you’ll be fine.”

Walsh said he has a great rapport with Vikings special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer, who knows his range well. He’s hopeful it won’t be an adjustment when Joe Marciano takes over for Priefer, suspended for the first three regular-season games for making a homophobic remark in 2012.

Marciano showed up earlier this week for his first Vikings practice. He’ll be on hand Saturday for Walsh’s next pregame long-distance show.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum Communications

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