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Vikings sign punter in case Locke bails or to give him competition

Minnesota Vikings punter Jeff Locke (18) looks on before the game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field last November. Photo by Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn.—It took eight months, but Taylor Symmank had finally made the Vikings' roster.

The punter from Texas Tech was impressive at a rookie minicamp last May, and the Vikings considered signing him. It didn't work out then, but Symmank signed last week.

"They were interested, but they just wanted to see how things played out with what was going on, and see how the roster spots and things like that would work out," Symmank said.

The Vikings ultimately decided not to bring in competition for Jeff Locke, then entering his fourth season. Locke improved overall in 2016 but had a shaky final month and is in line to become a free agent in March.

Sources said Symmank, who averaged 46.0 yards gross as a Texas Tech senior in 2015, was brought in for protection in case Locke isn't re-signed, or could battle him for a job.

"I'm just coming in and competing for a spot, whether it's (Locke) or somebody else that we bring in," Symmank said.

Symmank and former West Virginia punter Nick O'Toole were brought to last May's minicamp. Afterward, the Vikings indicated a preference for Symmank and had him stay an extra day and take a physical.

Symmank spent the fall working out in his hometown of McKinney, Texas, outside Dallas. When the call finally came, he was elated.

"I'm super excited about the opportunity," he said. "I've loved the organization since I first came to rookie minicamp, and all the coaches and staff that's there. The special teams coach (Mike Priefer) is amazing."

Symmank is known for his strong leg. He led the Big 12 in gross punting average in 2015 and was eighth in the nation.

"He has a big-time leg, but he really hasn't even developed on what he can become with the special teams coaches (the Vikings have) and all the other resources they are going to provide him,'' his agent, Sean Stellato, said. "(The Vikings) identified him, and they kept a dialogue open."

Locke last season averaged 39.0 yards net, his best since 39.2 as a rookie in 2013. He had his net average around 40 yards — the goal set by Priefer — before averaging just 32.6 in the final five games.

Locke made a base salary of $675,000 last season. He was noncommittal when asked before the Jan. 1 finale against Chicago whether he wanted to re-sign with Minnesota.