As he put together his postseason report for the 2012 season, Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said, he felt "very strongly" the team needed to make a change at punter.
Priefer based that on Kluwe’s on-field performance, he said Wednesday, not on any feelings Priefer had about Kluwe’s outspokenness on various social issues.
"A lot of people like to write and report that he and I didn’t get along," Priefer said. "I have a lot of respect for Chris Kluwe, based on what he’s done in his career, as a man and as an athlete. For anybody who stands up for what he believes in, like Chris did, I have a lot of respect for guys like that."
But when Kluwe supported former Raiders punter Ray Guy’s Hall of Fame candidacy by wearing a patch on his uniform in a game last December, Priefer said, "those distractions are getting old for me, to be quite honest with you," adding that Kluwe needed to "focus on punting and holding."
Priefer said that’s not why the Vikings will start the 2013 season with a new punter. It is because Kluwe ranked 17th in the NFL last season with a 39.7-yard net average, his career high.
The Vikings expect more of former UCLA punter Jeff Locke, who they picked up in the fifth round of the NFL draft in April.
Priefer said he sat down with Kluwe shortly after the draft and told him that if Locke had a good rookie minicamp in early May, the Vikings would let Kluwe go.
"He knew the writing was on the wall," Priefer said. "I wasn’t
going to lie to him. I wish him the best of luck in Oakland (with the Raiders). I really do."
The Vikings are working with Locke on adjustments to his punting technique, trying to rid his approach of wasted motion so he can put the ball in the air quicker. And so far, Priefer said, he’s happy with the switch.
"He’s very talented, like we knew he was," Priefer said. "I knew he’d be a hard worker. I didn’t realize it to this extent. He does everything I’ve asked him to do, drill-wise, and more. He’s very conscientious. He’s worked very hard as a holder, as well. Everything’s going in the right direction."