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Continued: Vikings seek to strike gold again with rookies on special teams

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Last update: August 31, 2013 - 6:16 PM

JEFF LOCKE: Pressure? What pressure?

Locke is the quietest punter the Vikings have had in nine seasons. Except for the bang that comes when his left foot makes contact with the football.

“He’s got a big leg,” Priefer said. “A real big leg.”

A year ago this time, Priefer was insisting that then-rookie Walsh had what it took — and then some — to replace a dependable longtime veteran in Ryan Longwell. Skeptics snickered. Walsh became a record-setting All-Pro first-teamer.

Well, here we go again.

Priefer’s belief in Locke convinced the Vikings to select him in the fifth round and quickly release yet another dependable longtime veteran in Chris Kluwe. Not only are skeptics snickering, they’re also suggesting the Vikings made the move only because they had grown tired of Kluwe’s attention-seeking actions for his many off-field causes and interests.

By comparison, camouflage draws more attention than Locke.

“I try not to look at it as me replacing Chris,” Locke said. “I do my thing and focus on my technique. Hopefully, the results speak for themselves. If I think about the pressure of the shoes I’m filling, the worse off I’ll be.”

Locke ranks second in UCLA history in punts (275) and average (44.23 yards per punt). He also showed this preseason that he has the skills and the leg strength to get the job done.

But, like it or not, there is pressure in replacing a guy who played here eight years and ranks No. 1 in franchise history in punting average (44.4) and No. 2 in net average (37.2). Especially when one considers that the Vikings are a run-oriented, ball-control team that depends heavily on favorable field position.

“We talked about that in our internal meetings [before the draft],” coach Leslie Frazier said. “We are structured a little bit different than some NFL teams. Special teams are a big part of it. [Punter] for us has a lot of weight, but we are confident Jeff can get the job done.”

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  • Blair Walsh, front, excelled as a rookie kicker for the Vikings, earning All-Pro honors. Now, the Vikings hope to strike gold with another special teams rookie, punter Jeff Locke, left. “He’s got a big leg,’’ special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said. “A real big leg.’’

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