EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- It's not often a punter taken in the fifth round can share or even top the attention given to three first-round draft picks. But that's what happens when the incumbent punter about to be shoved aside by the fifth-rounder is outspoken and highly visible Chris Kluwe.
Locke can step out of that shadow after Kluwe was released Monday, a transaction Kluwe announced via Twitter.
Much like last year, when the Vikings selected kicker Blair Walsh in the sixth round, the Vikings used last week's rookie minicamp to gauge how UCLA punter Jeff Locke handles coaching from special teams coordinator Mike Priefer.
"It's very similar to our approach with Blair," coach Leslie Frazier said last Friday on the first day of the team's three-day camp. "We just want to put (Locke) in different situations and see how he can respond."
After Walsh passed his test at minicamp a year ago, reliable veteran kicker Ryan Longwell was cut two days later. Walsh went on to set an NFL record for most field goals of 50 or more yards made in one season (10) en route to first-team All-Pro honors.
Kluwe expected the same fate as Longwell, and it came Monday. But he sounded OK with that, calling himself "statistically the best punter in Vikings history" and someone who "will just go and try to find another job somewhere else."
Kluwe owns the team gross punting records for a game (57.5), a season (47.6) and a career (44.4). He also had the third-highest gross average (45.0) and best net average (39.9) of his eight-year career despite battling groin and knee injuries in 2012.
But Kluwe also finished 31st in the league in punts inside the 20, had some uncharacteristic and ill-timed shanks, and saw the constant attention from his social activism and social media presence wear thin with the coaching staff, particularly Priefer. Priefer let his feelings about Kluwe's outspoken nature be known last year when he was asked about Kluwe's $5,250 fine for covering the 50th Anniversary Hall of Fame patch on his jersey with a Post-it note with the words "Vote Ray Guy."
"I don't even want to talk about that," Priefer said. "Those distractions are getting old for me, to be quite honest with you. Do I think Ray Guy deserves to be in the Hall of Fame? Absolutely. But there's other ways of going about doing it, in my opinion. ... (Kluwe) needs to focus on punting and holding (on place kicks)."
Kluwe's main focus when it comes to social activism is gay marriage rights. He's received national and international attention. Critics of this move say the Vikings were making this move because Kluwe has become too big of a distraction, particularly with his work on behalf of gay marriage rights.
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, who has final authority on all transactions, said that wasn't the case. Speaking on Day 3 of the draft, Spielman said, "It has nothing to do with anything Chris Kluwe is off the field. When we're making decisions, we're purely making them based on trying to bring in the best competition possible. This was just another normal personnel move.
"I have no issues with (Kluwe). If Chris Kluwe wants to express his opinion, that's his right. That's his freedom of speech."
Spielman said then that Locke was brought in to "compete" with Kluwe. However, it's a one-man show now. Spielman stopped short last week of saying Kluwe would still be around to compete when the June minicamp rolls around.
Locke had a 44.2-yard career gross average at UCLA. He's also known for his strong directional kicking and ability to hold punts inside the 20.
Kluwe is considered the best punter in team history. And, at 31, he's also considered to have more life left in his right leg. But his social activism made him known for a lot more than punting a football.
But he's OK if that's part of the reason he's on the unemployment line in early May.
"I think the sacrifice would be worth it," Kluwe told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "Now, I would hope that I would get the chance to play football again, because I think I can still play. But if it ends up being something that costs me that position, I think making people aware of an issue that is causing children to commit suicide is more important than kicking a leather ball."
Kluwe also said: "When I'm at the facility, I'm concentrating 100 percent on my job because that's what I'm being paid to do. But when I'm away from the facility, I'm no longer at my job. I get to live my life. This idea that you have to spend 24 hours a day thinking about your job frankly is unhealthy. It's insane."
If nothing else, Locke is a much more bland interview and sounds destined to blend into the background like most NFL punters do. Asked what minicamp meant to him and whether he saw it as his chance to unseat the outspoken Kluwe, Locke said: "I'm just trying to do what I do. I'm not trying to do anything extra. I've just got to keep doing what I've been doing to get to this point, and keep refining my technique."