Jeff Locke attempts to silently take Chris Kluew’s place


The story of the Vikings punter sounds eerily similar to last year. He is UCLA educated with a scholarly degree, and his background is in futbol not football.

But that is pretty much where the similarities end. The new guy doesn’t play bass in a band and much to the happiness of the Vikings he only tweets a handful of times per week and he probably won’t be screaming his political views at the top his lungs.

The Vikings are pleased that Jeff Locke has replaced Chris Kluwe, and Locke couldn’t be more different from his predecessor, despite their similar college experience. Let’s face it being a punter you don’t necessarily need or want the attention of the quarterback or running back. And it was Kluwe’s awe inspiring personality that was the exception and part of the reason that Locke was drafted by the Vikings in the first place.

“He is a very mature young man,” special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said, adding: “I felt like he was a young man who could handle the adversity, handle some pressure and handle the fact that he is going to be our punter this season.”

Locke went in the fifth round and was also targeted for his ability to hold on extra points and field goals, an equally important task on any team. So far during training camp, Locke estimated he’s split his work time evenly between holding and punting.

“We take holding very seriously,” Locke said. “It’s not like just a side job.” And it seems like Locke is taking his main job seriously.

On the other hand with Kluwe it was his side jobs that fans and management alike were focusing more on. He played often in his band Tripping Icarus, did sports commentary on 93x and he also wrote commentary and the speeches he made last fall in support of gay marriage rights. After Kluwe stuck a note to his jersey supporting former punter Ray Guy’s candidacy for the Pro Football Hall of Fame for one game last season essentially covering the Hall of Fame emblem on his jersey he was fined by the NFL. Priefer said he’d grown tired of such distractions and urged Kluwe to focus on his on-field duties and not the circus that was forming around him.

After letting releasing Kluwe to the Los Angeles Raiders last year, they are happy that Locke is a lot more quite about his personal and political views.

“I’m just a little more private with the way I handle things,” Locke said. “I’ll get involved with the community when the season comes around, on Tuesdays on our off days and stuff like that, so hopefully I’ll get to know the fans a little bit that way.”

Locke studied economics at UCLA and has said that whenever his football career is over, he plans to get his MBA and pursue a job in financial advising or wealth management. But he still has a lot game in him before he trades his pads and helmet for a suit and tie.

And those are the only things we really know about Locke. And that is how Locke and the Vikings like it. We also know that punting wasn’t even on Locke’s radar until his freshman year in high school at Mountain Ridge High School in Glendale, Ariz., when his friends from middle school persuaded him to join the team. The first game he’d ever watched was the first one he played in with the freshman team. His leg strength was enough to land him on the varsity soon after, and his life as a punter was off and kicking.

“They saw a guy, kind of raw, who had the power. I had to slowly find my technique over the offseason after that,” said Locke, who credited participation in summer kicking camps that helped refine his technique.

Between his junior and senior year, he had multiple scholarship offers from Arizona State, Georgia Tech, Nebraska, Stanford, UCLA and Wisconsin. Locke also hosted numerous honors by his name, including Parade All-American, he became a Bruin.

He was first team All-Pac-12 last season after pinning 35 punts inside the 20-yard line and launching 22 kicks of 50-plus yards. His gross average for his career was 44.2 yards per punt.

The Vikings trust Locke enough that they aren’t even going to bother bringing in another punter for training camp competition. Priefer has helped Locke tweak some of his punting technique through extensive video review. He has even been practicing some Australian-style end-over-end boots for longer distances. Locke’s biggest challenge this month, though, will be developing that fine-point rhythm with long snapper Cullen Loeffler and kicker Blair Walsh when he’s holding.

“He’s got to get used to holding the ball the way I like it, the way I like the ball tilted, how fast I get to the ball compared to somebody else,” Walsh said. “Even though it’s a little bit of milliseconds off, it’s still different. He’s also got to get used to Cullen snapping and the way he throws the ball, so there’s a bunch of moving parts you don’t necessarily see right away.”