Ah, the joys of being a rookie kicker.
You kick well throughout spring practices, you go 7 for 7 in your first two preseason games, and you win a kicking competition in training camp.
Then one missed kick and you’re in the coach’s doghouse.
Daniel Carlson found himself on the wrong end of a prickly Mike Zimmer, who sent the fifth-round pick a message early in Friday’s game, an eventual 21-20 win over the Seattle Seahawks. Carlson missed a 42-yard attempt wide left on the Vikings’ opening drive, negating a 15-play march by Kirk Cousins and Co. After Cousins led a 97-yard drive that culminated in Latavius Murray’s touchdown, Zimmer promptly went for a 2-point conversion, which failed.
As Zimmer revealed after the game, this wasn’t a preseason experiment to get in two-point conversion reps.
“Just letting [Carlson] know if he’s gonna miss, I’m gonna go for two,” Zimmer said in his postgame press conference.
It was apparently a silent message since Carlson told reporters after the game he wasn’t aware of Zimmer’s logic. Whatever the desired affect, Carlson proceeded to miss a second 42-yarder in the first half — also wide left.
The shoddy performance came on the heels of Kai Forbath’s release. Forbath went 1 for 2 in last week’s game and was cut Monday, officially awarding the job to the Auburn product who had outkicked Forbath throughout the spring and summer.
“He missed like two kicks all [training camp] and missed two tonight,” Zimmer said. “It’s never a good thing when you just release a guy and this guy goes in and misses. Maybe he needs some more pressure on him.”
Zimmer has witnessed preseason kicking struggles before. Blair Walsh missed seven preseason kicks in 2015, which foreshadowed his infamous miss in the playoffs later that season.
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer is also feeling out how to handle the second rookie placekicker he’s coached with the Vikings. Friday was the first time Carlson has needed a pick-me-up since arriving in the Twin Cities.
“When they miss one, do I put my arm around them or do I rip his tail?” Priefer said on Tuesday. “Everybody is a little bit different. I do like Daniel’s demeanor, and I like where he’s coming from and the direction he’s going.”
That was before Carlson’s two misses. Sounds like Priefer avoided the rip-his-tail approach.
“Everybody was great,” Carlson said after the game, “just encouraging me to keep my head up and stuff. That’s kind of their first time going through it with me.
“After a kick, I take about 15 to 30 seconds to think about, figure out what went wrong and kind of be upset for a second, but after that it’s time to refocus and get ready for the next one.”
Priefer may need an arm around him as well. Besides Carlson’s difficulties in the kicking game, the Vikings punt coverage struggled once again, and it would’ve been worse if not for a Seattle punt return touchdown in the fourth quarter that was called back.
“I’m concerned about the coverage units,” said Zimmer. “I’m gonna chalk this one up to a bad night, but hopefully it gets better.”