Up and down performance shows rookie punter Jeff Locke needs game reps
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MANKATO, Minn. -- On the first day of a game week, Minnesota Vikings rookie punter Jeff Locke estimates he kicks around 70 to 80 punts during a two-hour practice.
But not even the numerous repetitions can fully prepare Locke for what it's like on game day with thousands of fans cheering and a swarming defensive line gunning for him.
"We had the two plus-50 punts early, the one fair caught at the 10 and one at the 7, which were outstanding punts" Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said. "[Locke's] first field punt was a 48 yarder with a 4.6 second hang time, which is a good punt. His last two punts were not very good."
Locke was backed up near his own goal line for the last two punts of Friday's preseason opener, both were snapped from the Vikings' 20-yard line and both didn't hang in the air quite as long as he had hoped.
"I put my guys in a spot I didn't want them to be in with a little bit lower hangtime punt," Locke said. "I just have to work at it, day by day. We've already analyzed the film, saw what happened on the punts."
Locke appeared comfortable as he punted from midfield, pinning two inside the 20-yard line for fair catches and sailing one for 48 yards in the middle, but found no such luck punting with his back near the goal line.
"It's not get-off time, it's just the location of where I was dropping it," Locke said about his subpar punts.
Priefer is meticulous with how he handles his special teams unit consisting of kicker Blair Walsh, holder Cullen Loeffler and Locke. After special teams drills that begin every afternoon padded practice, the offense and defense break apart into separate units and Locke and Walsh are left to constantly kick against no defenders.
When Locke isn't punting, he's being video taped as he practices his hold for field goal attempts with both Priefer and Walsh providing commentary.
Priefer didn't go into much detail about Locke's performance on Friday, but was pleased with the holding aspect, simply saying "the holds were good."
Locke said his 75-punt per practice average is only for early in the week.
"We tailor [the punts] back as the week goes on," Locke said. "Once you start kicking more than that in a day, you start developing bad habits with a tired leg."