EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Jeff Locke isn't just booming his punts and hoping they end up in the right place.
No, the Vikings fourth-year punter is taking a more measured approach, much like he does in one of his favorite sports — golf.
"In punting, I kind of have different types of strokes, different types of areas of the field, so I can kind of equate that to my wedge game, my driver, stuff like that," Locke said. "Usually I zone in a little better punting than I do golfing, that's for sure."
Locke is an accomplished golfer and even played 85 holes in a single day this summer to raise money for military veterans and their families.
But he's also undoubtedly playing the best football of his career.
Locke is averaging 43.0 yards per punt with a net average of 40.6 yards per punt.
He ranks second in the NFL with 12 punts downed inside an opponent's 20-yard line. And he and the coverage team are third in the league with 11 forced fair catches.
The Vikings have given up just 16 return yards on 23 punts, tied for the lowest total in the league.
View images from the Thursday, Oct. 6 practice at Winter Park.
Locke attributes his success through four games to a changed mental approach, one he says keeps his mind clutter free.
"I'm really trying to simplify everything, not really think as much about what's going on around me," Locke said. "I'm just trying to stay in my own little zone and do my thing.
"I've kind of learned over this past year that when you're in the game, you're not really controlling your body anymore," he added. "It's all mind when you get in that zone, so that's kind of all I think about – controlling what I'm thinking about and trying to keep it as simple as possible with what I'm doing on the field."
Vikings Special Team Coordinator Mike Priefer said Locke has simplified the finer points of his game so far in 2016.
"He has worked extremely hard on his technique and the things he and I talked about back in January after the season," Priefer said. "He's done a very good job working on his drop, working on his leg swing, being more consistent with his line.
"All the little things that he continually works on," he added. "He's working harder now on the little things that are helping him be more successful. He's starting to believe that's why he's successful."
Stepping in, stepping up
Vikings Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner spoke to media members on Thursday and said he's been impressed by what T.J. Clemmings and Jeremiah Sirles have done in filling voids on the offensive line the past two weeks.
Clemmings has started the past two weeks at left tackle with Matt Kalil on injured reserve. Sirles relieved Alex Boone at Carolina and then stepped in for Andre Smith at right tackle against New York.
"I'm excited about it, and the biggest thing offensively – and it's kind of once we started getting guys hurt – it has been a theme," Turner said. "Someone has got to step up and play well, and T.J. has done that over there. Sirles did it at left guard. Sirles did it at right tackle. We just, we're in that mindset where if someone isn't available, whoever goes in for them, they've got a job to do; and they can't let the other 10 guys down. And that has kind of been our approach."
Xavier Rhodes has started each of the past two weeks after missing the first two games of the season with a knee injury. Trae Waynes filled in for Rhodes opposite Terence Newman and already has two interceptions this season, to go along with one apiece by Newman and Rhodes.
Minnesota rotated snaps between Rhodes, Waynes and Newman against the Giants, when the Vikings clamped down on New York's receivers.
Asked about the rotation on the outside, Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards said, "I think that's beneficial to us using their skill sets in the different packages that we use in different matchups that we face from week-to-week."
"Having three guys that can go out there and play at a high level and be able to compete and to match, it is good for us," Edwards said. "Those guys are working their butts off understanding what we are trying to get done schematically, fundamentally and technique-wise. They're doing a good job. Coach (Mike) Zimmer has always said, guys that go out and work hard, practice hard, we're going to find a way to use their skill set on Sunday. That's what we've done."
The second injury report of the week has been released:
For the Vikings: Andre Smith (elbow), Rhett Ellison (knee), Stefon Diggs (groin), David Morgan (knee) and Sharrif Floyd (knee) did not participate. Kyle Rudolph (rib) was limited. Anthony Barr (wrist), Xavier Rhodes (knee) and Jeremiah Sirles (ankle) fully participated.
For the Texans: TE Stephen Anderson (hamstring), RB Jonathan Grimes (ankle) and LB Max Bullough (illness) did not participate. G Oday Aboushi (toe), T Duane Brown (knee), TE C.J. Fiedorowicz (knee), CB Kareem Jackson (hamstring) and T Derek Newton (knee) were limited. WR Braxton Miller (hamstring), LB Brian Cushing (knee), CB Charles James (hand) and LB John Simon (wrist) fully participated.