MANKATO — Kicker Blair Walsh was just a few feet to the right, one one knee, staring as holder Jeff Locke took the snap and put the football on the ground, right where his finger had been.
The drill was repeated several times, with Walsh watching instead of kicking. He likes the football straight up and down, slightly tilted away. Locke was a holder for two years at UCLA, where the kicker liked it slightly tilted toward him, but it’s time to change.
“I think we broke him of the bad habits,” Minnesota Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said. “Now we’ve got to get him to the point where he is very comfortable holding for Blair in the way Blair likes it held, and I think he’s getting there. I know he’s getting there.”
Locke, a rookie punter, is trying to become the team’s holds for PATs and field goals, drafted in the fifth round in part because of his holding skills. He’s replacing former punter Chris Kluwe, who held for Walsh’s strong rookie season.
“I just try to do the best I can,” said Locke, who considers his ability to hold for kicks as important as his punting. “It doesn’t matter what happened last year.”
So every practice, Locke is working with veteran long-snapper Cullen Loeffler, trying to get the timing down so that all Walsh has to worry about is kicking the football.
“He’s a hard worker and a quick learner,” Walsh said. “I’m not crazy, but I like it a certain way, with the tilt. He’ll make sure he gets it right by the time we play games.”
Priefer said that backup quarterback Matt Cassell would likely be the holder if things didn’t work out with Locke, but he’s happy with the performance of Walsh, Locke and Loeffler.