While kicking and punting don’t exactly require a huge learning curve from NCAA Football to the NFL, the St. Louis Rams still couldn’t have expected this much early success from their rookie duo. Both kicker Greg Zuerlein and punter Johnny Hekker are primed for a serious push to make the Pro Bowl in their first years of action and that is surprising to even the most optimistic of fans.
On the punting side of things, Hekker set a new franchise-record against the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night with a 56.9 gross average. That may not seem all that amazing, but given the fact that returns are factored into that stat, ahem, Patrick Peterson, the mark takes on an all new meaning. Hekker said: “It’s a scary night. It’s frightening to have to punt to a guy like Patrick Peterson. The guy’s electric with the ball in his hands. Our guys did a great job of covering the punts that were in the field of play that he was able to run with. They did a great job all night of containing him, not letting him take it to the house.”
To this point, Hekker ranks fifth in the league in overall punting average at 49.5 yards a punt. His 41.2 yards in net punting which subtracts return yards and yards lost on touchbacks from the final total, ranks 10th. Despite the success, the youngster still strives to be better as he said: “I’m working on getting a good balance between distance, direction and hang time: the three main ingredients. I’m working on trying to get good direction on every punt. Trying to limit the returns, because the return guys in the NFL are all very dangerous.”
As for the kicking gig, Zuerlein has been flawless thus far and that is not an exaggeration. He is 13-for-13 thus far in field goals with kicks of 53 or more yards sailing through the uprights in each of the last three games. He has also nailed all of his extra point attempts and his quest for perfection is still very much alive. His consistency is out of this world and he hasn’t seemed to get rattled at any point during the season despite facing some critical kicks.
Some were unsure of the Rams strategy to overhaul both the kicking and punting spots with rookies in the same season heading into the year. This duo has totally outdone themselves to this point and proven all of the doubters wrong. Much like the Rams as a team, both Hekker and Zuerlein have defied that odds and been the primary reasons for the club’s new-found success in 2012.
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