Locke explains the art of Aussie-style punts

Jeff Locke has a couple of unique punting qualities that made him intriguing for the Vikings. His ability to kick it Aussie style for the best chance of being downed just outside the end zone is one of them. He explains the concept, the difficulties and mentors in doing it.

Jeff Locke has a few oddities of intrigue that were too much for the Vikings to pass up in the fifth round of the 2012 draft.

He became the highest drafted punter for the franchise, selected 155th overall, and combines the skill of kicking it Australian style when past midfield with kicking it left-footed.

The Aussie style may seem simple – create backspin on the ball in hopes of it bouncing backward after hitting near the goal line – but Locke knows there is more to it than that.

"When you start out with it, it kind of just goes up in the air and doesn't go anywhere so you've got to kind of manipulate it. You swing slightly different to get it to go downfield enough where it's effective," he said.

But the technicalities go beyond that. Unlike a short shot in golf with a wedge, more spin doesn't help reel the ball back after hitting the ground.

"The faster the spin on it, the more likely it is to take off, just because of the way the ball is spinning to go into the end zone," he said. "So the slower you get the thing to spin, the more likely it is – you just want it to spin slow, then it's more likely the surface of the ball will hit than the point will hit and take off in the end zone."

He estimates he gets about 70 percent of his Aussie-style punts to stop their forward progress after hitting the ground.

That's one of the reasons Locke was successful in the game of field position during the preseason. He was tied for second with four punts downed (instead of being returned) and tied for eighth with seven punts inside the 20-yard line. None of his punts went for touchbacks.

Former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe had only one of his preseason punts with the Oakland Raiders downed and only one finished inside the 20 (to be fair, Kluwe had only seven punts for the Raiders while Locke had 17 as the Vikings' only punter).

Two of Locke's Aussie-style punts appeared to be perfect in the third preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers. One was downed at the 2-yard line by Bobby Felder and the other at the 3-yard line.

Locke said one of them was punted just how he wanted it, but he credited Felder with a great save on another that had too much backspin.

He has been studying the art of the Aussie style from a couple of NFL veterans – Dustin and Britton Colquit, who play for the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs, respectively. They drop the ball before the punt similar to Locke's technique and Dustin is also a left-footed kicker.

Locke is still trying to perfect the craft, but he also is working on his regular punts – those kicked for distance as much as finesse – too. He is trying to get better with his hang time there.

"It's a huge emphasis. Coming from college, when guys can release downfield before the ball is kicked, hang time is not as big of a deal. But in the NFL it's a game changer giving your guys time to get downfield," Locke said.

"As a senior in college I tried to really emphasize hang time and that really helped me with the transition over (to the NFL). I've always tried to really be a hang-time punter rather than a distance punter, but you can't get away with the bomb like you can in college. When you hit that 60-yarder that has less hang time, you can't get away with in the NFL."

He felt fortunate that a 61-yarder against the Buffalo Bills in the second preseason game didn't come back to haunt him with a return for a touchdown.

"The cover guys kind of went down and saved me," he said. "That could have been a big return. I definitely don't want to hit that punt."

Ideal hang time depends on the situation, he said, but in general a 50-yard punt should have about five seconds of hang time to allow the coverage to get to it.

Locke finished the preseason 31st in the NFL in average net yards at 37.3, right behind Kluwe, who finished the preseason at 37.4 and then was cut by the Raiders. Locke was 38th in gross average at 43.6 yards.

Those statistics, and a couple of questionable holds on field goals, are proof that the rookie punter is far from a finished product. But there is plenty to like in his game, including the variety that the Aussie-style punts bring.

After practicing them for a couple years, he actually started executing them as a junior and senior at UCLA and believes that may have been part of the reason the Vikings drafted him.

"I had a lot of success getting balls to the 10 and the 20," he said, "so I think it might have played a role in it."

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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