Vikings’ Locke kicking around a new punt

Punter Jeff Locke admits he had an up-and-down season last year, but he and special teams coordinator Mike Priefer believe a new style of punt he starting working on last year should help.

Jeff Locke felt the winds of change last year, in more ways than one.

By his analysis, he started the season out well, took a dip after that and rebounded for the final stretch. But he and special teams coordinator Mike Priefer talked about a new kind of kick Locke has worked on to help deal with the winds at TCF Bank Stadium.

“He was trying to crush the ball into the wind. He’s got to be disciplined enough to keep his approach that’s compact – nice and short – so he doesn’t try to kill the ball,” Priefer said. “I think that will solve a lot of his problems. We’ve worked hard on that this offseason.”

Locke says he started working on that new kick midway through last season and started to see the results. For him, it’s not about trying to the hit the ball differently off the foot, rather where he’s dropping and then swinging his leg “slightly differently.”

“It’s really not about driving the ball. It’s about hitting a pure ball,” he said. “Just like a quarterback tries to keep a really tight ball in the wind, same thing we’re trying to do. We’re trying to keep the ball extremely tight off the foot so it cuts through that initial part of the wind coming into the face.

“The key is from contact up until the peak, you want to try and make sure that nose is cutting straight through the wind. The more that ball goes up and is turned in the beginning, the more the wind is going to hit it right away. Everything is about trying to keep that ball as straight as possible, all the way from the drop through contact and the apex.”

Locke said it is “totally different” than trying to punt the ball without much wind, or the wind at his back.

Last year, Locke finished 25th in the league among punters with at least 10 attempts at 44.2 yards gross. His net average was 38.7, 22nd in the league.

Going to TCF Bank Stadium during the practice week last year – the Vikings’ first at the outdoor stadium – helped, he said. It also gave him and kicker Blair Walsh an opportunity to chart the winds there. They diagrammed how the winds blew under certain conditions and which flags might be giving false reads.

“(The chart) mainly is based off weather forecasts because the flags aren’t always the same height in that stadium. Sometimes you get half-mast flags, sometimes not all the flags are up in the stadium, depending on if the Gophers played there that weekend. They are a little different each time,” Locke said. “I kind of base it on what we see in the stadium based on that day’s weather forecast because it always says which way the wind is coming out of in the city, so we can look at the weather forecast, match it up with the pic that day and kind of see what we think is going to happen, but there’s only so much you can do down there.”

Locke said the chart he and Walsh developed didn’t cause them to overthink things, but experience actually kicking in the stadium might have been the biggest advantage.

“There were some days that the wind was totally opposite the chart, but I think 75-80 percent of the time when we played there, that chart showed us what truly was happening when maybe if flags weren’t showing that,” he said. “I think if you look at how some of the other kickers kicked there and punted there, a lot of them had trouble trying to figure out what flags are telling you what.”

With experience came more confidence. He said watching debris blow across the field at any outdoor stadium can give kickers and punters false data. Knowing how the wind affects a ball up in the air is much different than how it is affecting a piece of trash blowing across the field.

“If you go out there not playing before and look at the winds, feel it and look at the stuff blowing across the field, anytime you get too tense, you’re not going to be able to perform,” he said. “It’s just having the confidence with what the wind is doing.”

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