Swirling winds in Mankato helping to prepare rookie punter Jeff Locke
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MANKATO, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings kicker Blair Walsh and his new holder, rookie punter Jeff Locke, said battling winds up to 30 miles per hour in the first two days of training camp is a good thing - even if they're still trying to perfect Locke's hold.
Special teams coach Mike Priefer echoed his players' thoughts and said the intense winds will help Walsh and Locke during the bevy of outdoor games this year, including their last four road games in November and December.
"It's not ideal in the first day of camp, but you do like to have some days like that," Priefer said. "Don't want to think too far ahead, but when we're at TCF Bank, we might have those type of windy, blustery days. We have eight games outdoors this year, only four last year."
Priefer said Locke has been the Vikings' designated holder from the get-go and reserve quarterback Matt Cassel will be the backup.
Locke, drafted in the fifth round, held kicks in his final two years at UCLA, but said each kicker has preferences for how they want the ball spotted and tilted.
"My kicker in college liked it tilted a little bit back," Locke said. "So I had to make the adjustment. It just takes reps, takes time."
Three out of 38 field goal attempts didn't clear the uprights for Walsh in his Pro Bowl rookie season, but he lost the security blanket of veteran punter and holder Chris Kluwe.
Locke said he's no stranger to how important his role is for Walsh to avoid a sophomore slump.
"[Holding] is just as important as punting, it's like having two separate roles on the team essentially," Locke said. "Being a holder and a punter, not something we take lightly. It's very important that Blair [Walsh] sees the ball the same every time."
Walsh said he and Locke practiced on their own in the month between mandatory minicamps and training camp to work out some kinks in his hold.
"It's a lot of repetition to break [Locke] of some bad habits, which we did in the spring," Priefer said. "Now we have to get him to the point where he's very comfortable in holding it the way Blair [Walsh] likes it held."