Minnesota Vikings punter Jeff Locke and kicker Blair Walsh had plenty of highs and lows in 2015. Many people believed that it was the confines of TCF Bank Stadium, an open-air stadium where winds swirl around, that played the biggest role in their struggles the past two seasons and they might be right.
However, the team’s special teams coordinator, Mike Priefer, does not seem to think it was all as bad as everyone seems to think it was. In fact, he believes that TCF Bank Stadium had turned into a real home-field advantage for the Vikings’ special teams unit.
“We felt TCF became a home-field advantage for us, where the kickers and punters came in and their eyes were big as saucers and they were really concerned about the wind,” Priefer said. “Our guys, as you know, went down there every week of home games and went down there and had one day and were kicking at TCF, and they felt – not comfortable, it’s harder to kick in those situations – but they felt better than they would if they didn’t have that practice or those reps that they had throughout the season.”
http://www.scout.com/nfl/vikings/story/1674520-vikings-otas-missing-thro... With Locke specifically, Priefer said that his numbers may not have looked all that great at their home field, but they were better than the opposing punters in those situations. It is hard to judge a punter’s performance off stats alone because those stats do not always take into account where they are kicking from. For example, a punter that is consistently punting from about the 50-yard line will have a much lower average than one consistently kicking from his own 20-yard line.
“He’s a very good punter and people want to look at the total numbers and the raw numbers from last year,” Priefer began, “but he punted in TCF for eight regular season games and a playoff game, and if you compare the numbers to the other guys that he competed against, on those certain days, he punted just as good or better than the rest of them.”
There had been some talk that the Vikings might look to bring in competition for Locke this offseason, but that hasn’t happened. There were a couple undrafted free agents at the Vikings’ rookie minicamp, but so far Locke has been the only punter at the team’s organized team activities.
A big reason for that is because the coaching staff has been impressed with him so far through OTAs. They feel as though he has come back stronger, both physically and mentally, and they think that he is going to play much better once they get him indoors at their brand new home, U.S. Bank Stadium.
“He’s actually come back stronger. We talked back in January that one of the most important things for Jeff to understand is that he has to be a more consistent performer,” Priefer said of Locke. “ ... His indoor punts were phenomenal last year in the three days indoors. I feel very confident about Jeff going forward. And the other thing we talked about was coming back stronger, bigger – and stronger not so much weight-wise but to have more confidence, especially kicking in the windy situations, and so far he’s responded quite well.”
After Walsh missed a 27-yard field goal that likely would have sealed their win over the Seattle Seahawks, there was a lot of speculation about how well he would be able to bounce back. Priefer said that he has been “excellent” so far and that he has come back stronger and more efficient.
The coaching staff has also tried to help him out this offseason by making sure his kicks are from shorter, more manageable distances, and not from 50-plus yards out on a regular basis.
“Shorter just because especially on a windy day, the wind won’t affect the shorter ones as much, it’ll give him some confidence,” the special teams coordinator explained. “But he’s confident right now; he’s in really good shape. But we’ll keep doing that. We’ll start him from short, then go longer from there and increase his confidence as spring goes on.”
The move indoors should also help out Walsh because there will be little to no wind – there could be a little wind if the big doors are left open for a game – to affect his kicks. The Vikings opponents will get the same advantages.