By Chad Courrier firstname.lastname@example.org
The Mankato Free Press
---- — 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.
“I’m excited about those three,” he said.
Priefer said he liked to put his kicker and punter through some adversity in camp, making them learn how to deal with blustery conditions. However, the 25-mph wind Friday and Saturday came a little soon in the process.
“It’s not ideal on the first day of camp, but you do like to have some days like that,” he said, “because you have to deal with different techniques and different fundamentals in that type of weather.”
Priefer said his kicker and punter will have to deal with wind at opposing stadiums as well as at the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium, which the Vikings will play in during the 2014 and ‘15 seasons as their new stadium gets constructed. The Vikings play eight outdoor games this season, four more than last year.
“Any time you have conditions like that you get something out of it; you just don’t want it Day 1,” Priefer said.
Locke agreed, but added that it was a good practice on Friday.
“It was interesting,” Locke said. “We had little bit of adverse conditions with the wind. I wasn’t hitting the ball like I wanted to going into the wind. It was kind of tough for me. But then in the team period I thought I hit the ball pretty well, so I was happy with that.”
Walsh, who set an NFL record last season by making 10 field goals of 50 yards or more, including a team-record tying 56-yarder, said he had to hit the football square just to get in from 35 yards on Friday.
“That was pretty tough,” he said.
Thielen gets noticed
There are plenty of new faces in the Vikings’ receiving corps, but former Minnesota State player Adam Thielen hasn’t been a wallflower early on.
Asked about what Thielen has shown, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said he’s seen some good things so far.
“We have seen some flashes from Adam,” Musgrave said. “He makes some spectacular catches; he made one yesterday where he took it off of the top shelf, really elevated and made a great catch, and he has done that consistently. “
The biggest cheers of the afternoon practice came when Erin Henderson, trying to earn the starting middle linebacker spot, intercepted a Christian Ponder pass and returned it for a touchdown early in a team drill. ... Rookie receiver Codarrelle Patterson continues to catch everything thrown at him, including a high slant that he snatched before running past the safety. He also showed some nifty moves on a reverse. ... The best receiver has been Joe Webb. The converted quarterback has made catches on deep passes and throws across the middle, and when he’s found running room, he’s been tough to corral. ... New receiver Greg Jennings put a fake on cornerback Chris Cook that caused Cook to fall over.