EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — As he’s become a very public advocate for same-sex marriage, Chris Kluwe has attracted a lot of attention for his political activism off the field this season.
Now, Kluwe is starting to become a focus for his on-field performances, and not in the way he would like. Kluwe, the Minnesota Vikings’ eighth-year punter, has struggled in 2012, especially in recent games as his public stances have become even more high profile.
The team and coach Leslie Frazier have stood by their outspoken punter but did try out players at his position Tuesday, including reportedly bringing in former San Diego State punter Brian Stahovich.
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“It’s part of the job,” Kluwe said. “If the team doesn’t think you are performing up to standard, then they’ll bring someone else in and do what they need to do. I am going to approach it the same way, go out and try to have the best game I can, hopefully I do.”
Frazier said the tryouts Tuesday were simply usual weekly protocol, part of developing a list of potential players to sign in case of injuries. Frazier said the team has had linemen, punters and defensive backs in the past few days.
With cornerback Chris Cook going on injured reserve, the decision to look at defensive backs was expected. Bringing in a punter, given Kluwe’s struggles, was interesting. But Frazier said he is confident Kluwe will be able to solve his problems.
“Chris is a pro,” Frazier said. “He’ll figure this out. Between (special teams coordinator) Mike Priefer and our staff, he’ll come through it. He’s been in this league awhile now. He knows how to look at himself and look at tape and figure things out. I think Mike always does a great job with him. So, he’ll get through this.”
Kluwe is averaging 43.8 yards per punt this season, ranking 24th in the league. He has a 39.9-yard net average. The overall numbers aren’t far off his career averages (44.3 gross, 36.9 net), but the past two weeks have caused his usually standout averages to dip.
Against Tampa Bay last week, he had six punts for a 37.8-yard gross average, including a 20-yard punt early in the first quarter that led to the Buccaneers’ first points in a 36-17 Vikings loss. Kluwe, who said he’s rushing his kicks and hasn’t been consistent with his drops, averaged just 40.0 yards per punt a week earlier against the Arizona Cardinals, but Minnesota at the time credited Kluwe for keeping the ball away from Arizona’s explosive returner, Patrick Peterson.
“I’d be more worried about someone who spent 24 hours a day thinking about solely one subject,” he said. “It’s not a sign of great mental health. When I am here at the facility, football is the only thing I am focusing on. That’s what I am here for. And when I am away from the football facility, I have a life. I do other things.
“I don’t think there is anything about not focusing or not being prepared because, as I said, I approach each week as if I am going to get cut if I don’t perform well. That’s how I have always played the game. So there’s nothing different about that.”
Frazier doesn’t believe focus is an issue for Kluwe.
“He’s been able to deal with so many things in his career,” Frazier said. “He’s able to focus in these situations and focus on the task at hand, and has been a very good punter, which he is. So, I don’t think anything off the field is distracting him. He knows how to focus on his job, and we’ll expect him to have a big game for us on Sunday.”