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Punter Competition?

NFL: USA TODAY Sports-Archive Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

When Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer spoke with the press on Sunday, about the only thing he didn’t field questions about was the status of his specialists. On Monday that was remedied when special teams coordinator Mike Priefer took the podium following the morning walk-through.

Priefer’s very first question of the press conference was about whether or not the team was planning to bring in additional competion for fourth-year punter Jeff Locke. During the 2015 season Locke’s punt average dipped from 44.2 yards in 2014 down to 41.6. And Locke never equaled the 45-yard average that Chris Kluwe, who he replaced in 2013, had in his final season with the Vikings.

The slight downward trend in Locke’s numbers led many fans to speculate that the unsentimental Priefer would bring in competition to push Locke during camp. That push happened before camp during the Spring OTAs and, based on his assessment of Locke’s performance, Priefer decided not to bring in additional competition during camp. However, Priefer did emphasize that the team will bring in competition for Locke if he doesn’t have a good camp.

While fans may be looking for more distance from Locke’s punts, that doesn’t necessarily mesh with Priefer’s philosophy—he doesn’t want to have his punters out-kick the coverage—suggesting that no punter he coaches will have a gaudy stat line, “Net over 40 yards and I’ll be happy.”

So what growth does Priefer want to see from Locke? “It’s all about consistency.”