INDIANAPOLIS — When Jeff Locke decided to sign with the Indianapolis Colts back in March, he knew he'd likely be facing a few changes.
First of all, he'd be in a new uniform number. Locke had worn No. 18 throughout his college career at UCLA, and then again throughout his first four years in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings, but knew that number with the Colts — which was worn by a former quarterback by the name of Peyton Manning — simply wouldn't be available. So he settled with No. 9.
But secondly, and most importantly, Locke knew he'd likely be taking on more responsibilities upon signing in Indy.
With the Vikings, the left-footed Locke was depended on solely to trot out on fourth down and punt the ball. But with the Colts, with the likes of future Hall of Famer Adam Vinatieri usually only available to handle place-kicking duties to put points on the board, Locke will be also be counted on take over kickoff duties, as well.
It's something Locke had been preparing for his entire professional career, and now that it's here, he knows it'll take even more work to ensure he's doing what he can to get the job done.
"These last four years in Minnesota not doing it all the time, I kept it up in the offseasons knowing that this day might come," Locke said last week. "I love doing it. It's definitely a different swing to maintain. It's a little more stress on the body, also."
Now 44 and kicking into his 22nd NFL season, Vinatieri no longer handles kickoff duties due to the strain it can have to his back and hips. But Locke, 27, is certainly no stranger to handling kickoffs — he led the NCAA in touchbacks his senior year at UCLA — and he said he'll make the adjustments off the field to account for those potential issues.
"Really, I just have to be more on top of my maintenance in terms of keeping my body right," he said. "But other than that, it's just two techniques I got to be instead of one."
Locke, of course, is the replacement for All-Pro punter Pat McAfee, who decided to retire back in January at the age of 29 with two years left on his contract to pursue a career in the entertainment industry.
McAfee had thrived not only as the Colts' punter, but also as the team's kickoff specialist, the past few seasons, and Locke hasn't been shy about acknowledging the shoes he knows he has to fill to try to perform up to his standards.
But, to be fair, Locke and McAfee appear to take two completely different approaches to punting. While McAfee, a righty, oftentimes relied on a big leg to reverse the field, Locke can put returners in a tizzy with a completely different-looking spin coming off his left foot. He has averaged 43.2 yards per punt in his first four years in the league.
With all that being said, however, Locke isn't just trying to start over as the Colts' new punter. He wants to take what McAfee did so well, mix in his own talents, and see where it takes him.
"I'm obviously watching all of his film right now as we kind of review what happened last year and years before that talking about scheme with Coach Mac (Tom McMahon)," Locke said. "So it's been cool to watch him work because I don't see a lot of his film actually during the year being in the NFC. So seeing what he did for this team makes me want to kind of just step up even more because he was one of the best."
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