Shortly after drafting left-footed punter Jeff Locke in the fifth round last weekend, General Manager Rick Spielman insisted the move was made to bring in competition for eight-year vet Chris Kluwe and not necessarily to replace him immediately.
“When we’re making decisions, we’re purely making them in trying to bring in the best competition possible regardless of position,” Spielman said.
But that so-called punter “competition” may end this weekend with only Locke on the practice field for rookie mini-camp.
As a reference point, after drafting kicker Blair Walsh in Round 6 in 2012, Spielman closely tracked Walsh during the team’s rookie mini-camp to make certain he could absorb some coaching while handling the pressure of kicking with all eyes on him.
Walsh did just fine. And the day after the rookie mini-camp finished, veteran Ryan Longwell was released.
So read between the lines when coach Leslie Frazier said Friday that this weekend’s monitoring of Locke is “very similar” to last year’s procedure with Walsh.
“We just want to put him in different situations and see how he can respond,” Frazier said.
Because the Vikings' rookie mini-camp was moved indoors due to weather Friday, Locke spent the morning down at Mall of America Field punting with special teams coach Mike Priefer away from any audience. So we have no early eyewitness report on how he kicked.
But assuming he doesn’t suffer an injury or experience a mental breakdown this weekend, he should have the punting job all to himself soon. Maybe as soon as Monday evening.
It’s no surprise Kluwe is already looking ahead to life elsewhere. He will meet with Spielman on Monday and both sides have agreed that if Locke is the preference – and the rookie would sure seem to have the inside track given his draft status – there will be no point in dragging out the break-up.
Cutting Kluwe sooner rather than later would give him greater opportunity to catch on elsewhere. It would also allow the Vikings to provide quick closure to a storyline that could prove controversial and annoying if it’s drawn out too long.