Updated: April 27th, 2013 2:00pm
Vikings' pick at No. 155: UCLA punter Jeff Locke

Vikings' pick at No. 155: UCLA punter Jeff Locke

by Judd Zulgad
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Chris Kluwe's time as a member of the Minnesota Vikings appears to be finished after the team used its fifth-round pick Saturday on UCLA punter Jeff Locke.

Locke, a left-footed punter, also handled kickoff duties for the Bruins. His career punting average of 44.2 yards ranks second in UCLA history and last season he was a semifinalist for the Ray Guy award after leading the Pac-12 with 34 punts inside the 20-yard line.

His highest punting average at UCLA came in his sophomore season when he averaged 45.8 yards. Last year that figure was a career-low 43.3 yards but the 6-foot, 207-pound Locke was still named first-team all-conference by league coaches.

The Vikings won't need Locke to handle kickoffs -- 2012 sixth-round pick Blair Walsh had a team-record 53 touchbacks last season --but he did have 68 touchbacks on 89 kickoffs to lead the conference.

"I'm very excited," Locke said. "I can't wait to come up and work with (special teams coordinator) Mike Priefer and the rest of the staff and just to meet the team and get to work."

Locke said he had been told he likely would be taken around the sixth round. Locke is only the sixth punter the Vikings have ever selected in the draft. The 155th pick is the highest the Vikings have ever taken a punter. Eddie Johnson of Idaho State went 180th to Minnesota in 2003.

The fact the Vikings selected a punter does not come as a surprise given the team sent Priefer to quietly conduct private workouts with Arizona State's Josh Hubner, LSU's Brad Wing and Locke. 

Locke said he has met Kluwe only once. I was told "to come in and be ready to work," Locke said when asked if he expected to compete with Kluwe. Locke also has been told to be ready to hold for Walsh. That is another job that Kluwe has handled.

Kluwe is due $1.45 million in salary and bonuses for 2013 but there are no guarantees and no bonus proration in his contract so there would be no penalty for cutting him.

Kluwe, who also went to UCLA, joined the Vikings in 2005 after being claimed off waivers from Seattle. He averaged 45 yards gross and a career-high 39.7 yards net last season on 72 punts and tied the NFL record for having at least one 50-plus yard punt in all 16 games. He tied for the second-fewest touchbacks on punts in the NFL with two in 2012.

Ultimately, it might not be Kluwe's punting that costs him his job.

Priefer clearly grew tired last season of Kluwe's focus on social issues and his willingness to express his views both through the media and on social media. Kluwe has been a staunch advocate of gay rights and same-sex marriage.

Last December, Kluwe was fined $5,250 by the NFL after he put a note that said "Vote Ray Guy" over the 50th Anniversary Hall of Fame patch teams wore for a game.

"Those distractions are getting old for me, to be quite honest with you," Priefer said at the time. "Do I think Ray Guy deserves to be in the Hall of Fame? Absolutely. But there's other ways of going about it, in my opinion."

Priefer also added the Kluwe's focus on things that did not include football was "getting old," adding, "He's got to focus on punting and holding."

Asked if this was something he talked to Kluwe about, Priefer said: "Nah, he don't listen." 

Following last season, Kluwe underwent surgery to clean out debris in his left knee.

Locke had little to say when asked about Kluwe's off-the-field reputation.

This was would mark the second consecutive offseason in which the Vikings jettisoned a veteran member of their special teams after the draft. Last year, the Vikings took Walsh and shortly thereafter released Ryan Longwell. That moved worked out well as Walsh went on to make the NFC Pro Bowl team.

Locke, who like Kluwe is a fan of video games, was an economics major at UCLA. 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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