Vikings' punting battle might be over

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG and DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: May 4, 2013 - 6:50 AM

Leslie Frazier compared the punting competition to last year’s brief kicking duel.

The Vikings began their three-day rookie minicamp Friday at Winter Park, pooling together their nine-man draft class with 16 undrafted-free-agent signees and 34 other tryout players.

So what did we learn?

1. The punting battle likely won’t last much longer

Shortly after drafting left-footed punter Jeff Locke, General Manager Rick Spielman insisted the move was made to bring in competition for Chris Kluwe and not necessarily to replace the eight-year vet immediately.

But that so-called “competition” might end this weekend.

As a reference point, after drafting kicker Blair Walsh in Round 6 in 2012, Spielman closely tracked Walsh during the team’s rookie minicamp, just 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 minicamp finished, veteran Ryan Longwell was released.

So read between the lines of coach Leslie Frazier’s assertion Friday that this weekend’s evaluation of Locke is “very similar” to last year’s approach with Walsh.

“We just want to put him in different situations and see how he can respond,” Frazier said.

Because Friday’s practice was moved indoors due to weather, Locke spent the morning at Mall of America Field downtown punting with special teams coach Mike Priefer — away from any audience. He was back at Winter Park in the afternoon, doing work as a holder.

Assuming Locke doesn’t suffer an injury this weekend or experience a mental breakdown, he should have the punting job to himself very soon. Kluwe will meet Monday with Spielman. And both sides have agreed that if Locke is the preference — and the rookie sure seems to have the inside track — there will be no point in dragging out the breakup.

2. Give ‘CP’ an early ‘A’ for his study habits

It’s early. Real early. But we’ve learned that receiver Cordarrelle Patterson appears motivated off the field to disprove the popular notion that he might lack the learning capacity to grasp an NFL playbook quickly enough to start immediately.

Patterson, this year’s 29th pick, said he spent about two hours studying his playbook the night before rookie minicamp started. He then woke up early Friday and brushed up on his duties as the ‘X’ receiver in the roughly 20 pass plays that would be run that day.

“They’re just seeing how much we can learn by throwing it at us this quick,” Patterson said. “But it’s not what I expected. I’m getting it faster than I thought I would.”

Even Patterson admitted that could change after one practice. But he doesn’t envision falling behind the normal NFL learning curve. Not with the special attention he’s getting from receivers coach George Stewart.

“I really don’t think it’s going to take that long,” Patterson said. “Coach Stewart has already said he and I are going to have a lot of sessions. So he’ll make sure I know everything. We’re going to spend extra time. I know everything is going to be good.”

3. Press coverage produces early pick

Well, it’s officially all downhill from here for cornerback Xavier Rhodes. Just kidding, of course, but we did notice that the 25th overall pick makes a nice first impression. In this case, it was an interception in the first one-on-one drill of his first rookie minicamp practice.

“It was just a little press coverage; my type of game,” said the 6-1, 217-pounder known for his physical play. “I kept the receiver in front of me, on my hip. The quarterback threw the ball up. It was a jump ball. And I just picked it off.”

The Vikings, of course, are hoping Rhodes can duplicate that when the competition is tougher than this weekend, where all three quarterbacks and most of the receivers he’s facing are undrafted rookies with little chance of making a 53-man roster.

If that’s the case, the Vikings might have a cornerback grab more than four interceptions for the first time since Brian Williams had five back in 2003.

4. Linebacker balances eagerness with patience.

Michael Mauti, a seventh-round pick out of Penn State, was on the field briefly Friday, participating in walk-through concepts with the defense. But 5½ months removed from surgery to repair his left anterior cruciate ligament, Mauti’s most notable moment was his formal introduction to head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman and the Vikings’ medical staff.

In the middle of ACL rehab for the third time since 2009, Mauti has a goal of being ready to practice when training camp opens. But he’s also trying to control his ambition and admits he’s eager to unite with a staff that has successfully aided the ACL rehabilitation of standouts such as Adrian Peterson and Chad Greenway.

“It’s all about not getting ahead of yourself,” Mauti said. “It’s about knowing where you’re at and having a feeling for your body. I think I’ve got a pretty good feel for that. I know how to push the envelope without going overboard.”

Mauti has worked back to a point of being able to sprint and has transitioned into some light agility work. Having made successful comebacks from ACL injuries twice in college, he said he understands the process more than most.

“I know what to do, when to do it, how to do it,” Mauti said. “I’m getting better at it each time, unfortunately.”

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