Jeff Locke had a successful enough career punting at UCLA that he became a fifth-round draft pick of the Vikings in April.
That's higher than the Vikings have ever selected a punter, but Locke is hardly done refining his kicking skills. In fact, the 23-year old rookie is pretty impressed with the opportunities the NFL offers to enhance his technique.
"It's kind of cool having the access to all the film. We have our own personal camera man everyday (during offseason practices) so I get to examine my film even more in-depth than I was able to do in college. I love it. I'm able to see a lot of small things I might not have caught in college," Locke said after a minicamp practice last week.
It didn't take long for the Vikings to realize he was the punter they wanted to keep. They made him one of only six punters drafted in team history, and four of the previous five were drafted later than the current seven-round format would allow. Eddie Johnson (sixth round of 2003) was only other punter selected in the top eight rounds, and he didn't make the team.
Locke, however, was given a convincing vote of confidence after only three days of rookie minicamp in Minnesota. The Vikings released T.J. Conley two days after drafting Locke and continued with the punter transactions by releasing veteran incumbent Chris Kluwe one day after Locke's initial rookie minicamp.
They haven't been disappointed with those decisions yet.
"I like our new punter – very talented like we knew he was. He's working very hard," special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said in the middle of minicamp. "I knew he would be a hard worker; I didn't realize to this extent. He does everything I ask him to do drill-wise and more. He is very conscientious. He's worked very hard as a holder as well so everything is going in the right direction."
The temptation might be for Locke to overanalyze his pre-kick footwork, the drop of the ball and his punting motion with all of his newfound access to film of every kick he's made in practices. He knows, however, that there is a danger with too much analysis.
"Oh, yeah. We always make sure not to over-coach. When Coach Priefer and I will talk and sometimes we'll get to the point where we want to work on everything, fix everything and make sure everything is perfect, but you can't overanalyze anything," Locke said.
Even without the film that intrigues him now, Locke was very successful at UCLA.
He ranks second in school history for most punts (275), most yardage (12,163) and punting average (44.23). His average is also the fourth-best in Pac 12 Conference history. Last year, he led the nation in number of punts and yards gained punting and placed ninth for career average.
As a freshman, he led the conference with a 38.06-yard net average and followed that with a conference-leading 41.27-yard average as a sophomore. He ranked second in the Pac 12 last year with a net average of 39.94 yards.
At minicamp, he showed off his strong leg, regularly hitting punts between 45 and 55 yards. However, there was at least one shank out of bounds and he knows consistency is important.
"I think for me it's still focusing on the small things. You can't always look big picture for punting. You've just got to work day by day and work on your technique and then that's the way you develop consistency, no matter where you're playing at," Locke said.
Priefer said he is trying to eliminate some "wasted motion" that Locke had in college, but Locke said there aren't any "crazy" corrective measures being suggested, like trying to eliminate a step.
"It's not really anything extremely big they're trying to change. No major overhauls," he said. "It's just fine-tuning a couple small things. A lot of it is just speed of the game. The operation time has to be a lot faster than it was in college. We've got to work on a clean catch, get the feet going quick – stuff like that."
Priefer wants to see the snap-to-kick time decrease some, which he believes will also make Locke more consistent.
"We spend a lot of time watching that tape. We try not to overanalyze it because he is very intelligent, so I don't want to overanalyze it, the old paralysis-by-analysis type deal," Priefer said. "He's done a nice job of just working on one or two things per day so that's really helped him. It's been very beneficial for him."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Film study a delicate balance for Locke
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