EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Rookie punter Jeff Locke is proving to be a quick study in his transition to the NFL and the Minnesota Vikings.
Locke is learning the benefits of advanced film work in the NFL. He’s learning technique changes to improve his punting and, just as importantly, he’s learning how to hold for Minnesota kicker Blair Walsh. He’s also taking his cues from the two teammates he spends the most time with, Walsh and long snapper Cullen Loeffler.
“Yeah, (Walsh) and Cullen tell me where to go and I’m there,” Locke said during the team’s minicamp in June.
Locke plays his part as the rookie well, even to the point of following Walsh’s direction for a video which shows Locke holding on the practice field and then, curiously, in the shower, steam room, inside a laundry bin, on a scale and then inside his locker.
“Yeah, Blair’s a good producer,” Locke said of the video posted on Walsh’s Twitter page. “He told me where to go and I held the ball.”
The Vikings hope Locke is as quick a learner as Walsh, who surprised the league with a Pro Bowl rookie season. Perhaps emboldened by the success of Walsh last season, Minnesota special teams coordinator Mike Priefer pushed for an upgrade at punter. The Vikings drafted Locke in the fourth round of April’s draft and soon after parted ways with veteran Chris Kluwe, statistically the best punter in team history who had struggled last season.
Priefer identified Locke, a left-footer, as the top replacement in the draft and Minnesota made him the first punter selected. Getting the chance to work all summer with Locke, Priefer is impressed with the rookie out of UCLA.
“Very talented, like we knew he was,” Priefer said. “He’s working very hard. I knew he’d be a hard worker. I didn’t realize to this extent. He does everything I’ve asked him to do drill-wise and more. He’s very conscientious. He’s worked very hard as a holder as well. Everything’s going in the right direction.”
Locke’s studying has been aided by the availability of film.
“We got our own personal cameraman every day, so I’ve got to do my film even more in depth than I ever did in college,” Locke said. “I love it. I’m able to see a lot of small things I might not have caught in college.”
Locke said one of the changes he’s made is being quicker due to the speed in the NFL. Priefer had also worked on timing with Walsh last year. The hope is Locke can have the same type of success with the timing adjustment.
“He’s got just a couple things we’re working on with just his footwork, taking out some of the wasted motion that he had coming from college,” Priefer said. “Worked very hard at that and we’re definitely seeing some progress. He’s got to get his get-off a little quicker and overall it’s going to make him a more consistent performer, and that’s obviously what we’re looking for.”
Priefer and Locke have spent a lot of time this summer watching the tape and have been careful not to over-analyze technique, choosing to make changes in small doses this summer to not overload Locke.
Locke’s work with Walsh and Loeffler is just as vital to Minnesota’s special teams’ success. Locke held for two years in college and the trio has been working to keep the same approach as last year when Kluwe held and Walsh was perhaps the best kicker in the league.
“First couple of days I had to get used to what Blair wanted, every kick he wants a little bit different tilt, different angle on it,” Locke said. “I think we’re really getting into a zone in that aspect.”
And Locke doesn’t mind taking direction from Walsh and Loeffler to get there.