After chat, the 'dumbest smart guy,' Jeff Locke's punts have improved
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EDEN PRAIRE, Minn. - Even though the Vikings aren't mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, the final quarter of the season will primarily be about establishing who should be here next year.
Through that lens, rookie punter Jeff Locke's recent improvement is encouraging for Vikings fans.
He battled bouts of inconsistency earlier this season, but he's had two of his best games in each of the past two weeks, according to special teams coordinator Mike Priefer. That might not be a coincidence, either.
After a rough stretch of games, Priefer took Locke aside and had a "heart-to-heart" about Locke's punting future.
"Basically he was thinking too much and he was pressing too much and he was trying to be perfect too much," Priefer said Thursday. "He's a talented guy, just go out and do what you do."
What was the prevailing message of their little chat?
"I honestly told him that he's the dumbest smart guy I've ever met in my life," Priefer said. "Because all he did was think. He was overthinking, overanalyzing everything and he just wasn't going out there and doing what he does. He's got a beautiful leg swing when the drop is closer to being perfect or perfect, we get what we want. And when it's not perfect, that's OK, that's football. He's just got to understand that he's going to be a more consistent punter when he approaches it that way."
Locke has pinned the opponent inside the 20-yard line 15 times this season. Five of those are in the past two games. After the Vikings 41-20 loss in Seattle, Locke had pinned opponents inside the 20 on just 24 percent of his punts.
The past two games - a tie at Green Bay and an overtime win at home - he's pinned the opponent on five of his 12 punts, or 42 percent. It's a small sample size of punts, of course, but the early returns on the heart-to-heart are encouraging.
"We're still working on the fundamentals, the technique stuff and that'll never change. I think he's embraced that and he's done a really nice job the last two weeks and I think that'll continue," Priefer said.
"He's had some good weeks earlier in the season. The last two weeks he's just been - his two best weeks of the year I think."