Other positions will always get more headlines, but the St. Louis Rams are excited about their duo of rookies competing for the punting and kicking duties in 2012. Special teams play won’t wow many fans or excite commentators, yet the fact remains that many games during the course of an NFL season will be decided in the third phase of the game.
The Rams new regime decided that it was time for a change at both punter and kicker after incumbent kicker Josh Brown and punter Donnie Jones underwhelmed in 2011. Money also factored into the decision to move in a different direction as Brown was due $2.7 million in 2012. Now the club will be banking on a pair of rookies to hold down the positions (at least for the time being).
Sixth round draft choice kicker Greg Zuerlein and undrafted free agent punter John Hekker will be first in line for the jobs. Both men have impressive résumés coming out of college which the Rams believe will translate at the next level.
The team had Zuerlein in for a workout pre-draft to just see what he had to offer and special teams coach John Fassel was blown away. Zuerlein made 23 of 24 field goal attempts last year with nine over 50 yards including two from 58 yards away in one game. His leg strength also is an asset on kickoffs where he racked up 30 touchbacks with Missouri Western.
As for Hekker, he was a standout at Oregon State with last year being his third-best average during his time there at 41.3 yards per punt. At 6’5” 221lbs., Hekker certainly has no strength concerns and his bulky build compares favorably to one of the game’s best in Oakland Raiders’ punter Shane Lechler.
These guys won’t get much ink until they either do something spectacular or something equally unimpressive. The fact remains that plenty of contests will be won and lost in the kicking game during the upcoming season and the Rams will be relying on youngsters to come through in the clutch. That plan has the potential to be very rewarding if it works out and just as detrimental should it take a turn for the worse.