Notebook: GM says decision to draft punter was 'normal personnel move'
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Rick Spielman said the fact Chris Kluwe has been outspoken both in the media and on Twitter about marriage equality and other matters has nothing to do with why the Minnesota Vikings used a fifth-round pick on UCLA punter Jeff Locke on Saturday.
"It has nothing to do with anything Chris Kluwe is off the field," said Spielman, the Vikings' general manager. "When we're making decisions, we're purely making them trying to bring in the best competition possible regardless of position. When we brought in the first three (draft picks), we are trying to create competition and see if they can upgrade us. This was just another normal personnel move.
"It had nothing to do with Chris Kluwe's off field concerns. I have no issues with if Chris Kluwe wants to express his opinions. That's his right, that's his freedom of speech. This is just a football decision to bring in a guy to come in and compete."
Kluwe, 31, posted a career-best net average of 39.7 yards on 72 punts last season, with 13 downed inside the 20-yard line and no touchdowns for the first time since 2005, despite playing much of the season with torn cartilage in his left (non-punting) knee that required surgery.
But he also drew a public rebuke from special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, who questioned Kluwe's focus after he campaigned in support of marriage equality and wore a "Vote Ray Guy" sticker on his uniform during a game.
Spielman also said that no one should assume that Kluwe won't be allowed to compete to keep the job in training camp, despite the fact that common sense says the Vikings did not use a fifth-round pick on a punter they intend to cut.
"I'm not going to comment on anything right now," Spielman said when asked if Kluwe might be released in the coming weeks. "Right now, we just finished the draft and finished signing college free agents. We'll sit down with the coaches and analyze where we're at with everything. But right now, going forward, we expect that to be a competition."
Locke, meanwhile, is a left-footed punter who career average of 44.2 yards ranks second in UCLA history. Last season, he was a semifinalist for the Ray Guy award after leading the Pac-12 with 34 punts inside the 20-yard line.
Asked what set Locke apart, Spielman said: "One, the character and two, he's a left-footed punter, which helps. Three, he's a great directional kicker, and four, he's excellent getting the ball inside the 20, a very good holder (and a) good athlete.
"Those were all the things, once we got into our draft meetings, and then like last year we sent Coach Priefer out and did numerous private workouts. So when he came back and we were in our special teams meetings, he gave his input into it. Once we gathered all that information, that's why we made the decision."
Spielman explained a left-footed punter is valuable because he can put a different spin on the ball.
"I know when we play teams that have left-footed punters, we always bring in a left-footed punter for a workout that week just so our guys can be accustomed to that different spin," Spielman said.
Plan in the middle
It remains unclear coming out of the draft what the Vikings will do to fill the hole created at middle linebacker when Jasper Brinkley signed as a free agent with the Arizona Cardinals.
That means the Vikings could move Erin Henderson from the weak-side to the middle, they could look at 2012 seventh-round pick Audie Cole or they could hope that Mauti recovers from surgery he had to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee suffered last November. That was the third time Mauti suffered a torn ACL and the second time he tore his left one.
There also is a possibility the Vikings could look at veterans remaining on the free-agent market, such as former Chicago Bear Brian Urlacher.
"We're going to sit and assess what we have," Spielman said. "Everybody was a little bit tired so I wasn't going to sit there and have a personnel meeting with the coaches tonight. We'll get to that on Monday and kind of see where we're at. We signed a couple of linebackers, another linebacker in college free agency (Saturday), so we'll see where we're at and go from there."
• The Patriots selected TCU WR Josh Boyce at No. 102 -- the fourth-round pick acquired from the Vikings in Thursday's trade.
• New England traded the Vikings' original seventh-round pick (No. 229) to Tampa Bay, which sent it back to Minnesota as part of a swap to move up seven spots in the sixth round and take Miami RB Mike James. The Vikings used the 229th pick to round out their draft class with Florida State DT Everett Dawkins.
• CB Marcus Sherels signed his exclusive-rights tender on Monday in time for the start of the Vikings' offseason program. S Andrew Sendejo and OL Troy Kropog signed theirs previously.