EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. –Jeff Locke is doing less thinking and more playing this season. So far, it's paying off.
"I think as a young punter and a young player I put too much pressure on myself … but I've just kind of tried to come into my own and just relax and have a little more fun this year," said Locke, who had arguably his best career game at Carolina last Sunday.
After a solid performance against Green Bay in Week 2, Locke helped give the Vikings great field position a number of times en route to their 22-10 win over the Panthers. In seven Minnesota punts, Locke averaged 45.6 yards per boot, his longest being a 62-yard punt. He managed to pin the Panthers inside their 15-yard line three times.
Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer told media Friday that he's also seen Locke relax this year.
"Jeff is a smart guy," Priefer said. "Like a lot of kickers and punters and snappers, they like to overanalyze and overthink things."
Priefer said Locke tended to overthink the winds of an outdoor stadium during the Vikings two seasons at the University of Minnesota.
"One of the things we worked on this offseason is just going back to basics, going back to fundamentals," Priefer said. "The drop, the angle of his approach, his step pattern, everything. All the basic stuff that he needs to do consistently to be a good punter. He's gone back and done that, and he's done that since the spring."
Locke has improved in each of the Vikings first three games, and the team is seeing more consistency, longer punts and the ability to give Minnesota's defense good field position when taking the field.
Locke explained that the combination of hang time and distance impacts how successful a punt will be.
"The higher you hang it, the better chance you have of getting that bounce, the better chance you have of placing it where you want it and not hitting that touchback," Locke said.
The fourth-year punter said keeping control and avoiding those touchbacks was a major emphasis for him during the offseason.
Heading into the Vikings second regular-season home game against the Giants Monday night, Locke said he's feeling confident.
"So far, so good," Locke said. "I kind of feel relaxed and comfortable and really good to contribute and help this team win."
Priefer feels equally sure of Locke's abilities moving forward.
"We've definitely noticed a difference," Priefer said. "And I think when you're punting the ball well and you're helping your team win, you are going to have a lot more fun. I think we're headed in the right direction there."