Last year was the beginning of a rebuilding process for the St. Louis Rams. When not even the incumbent punter or kicker keep their jobs, it’s clear heads are going to roll. Special teams is not a place to begin an overhaul of an entire roster, but it just so happened that the Rams found some gems in the game’s third phase along the way. Even after last year’s roster turnover, the makeover continued on special teams again in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Let’s take a flashback to last year when the Rams added Greg “Legatron” Zuerlein in the fifth round of the draft to be their place kicker. That investment paid immediate dividends as Legatron nailed seven kicks of 50 yards or longer in his rookie season. He wasn’t the only special teams acquisition from a year ago to experience success however.
Punter Johnny Hekker was signed as an undrafted free agent and made quite an impact during his first year in the league. His 45.8 yard average was in the middle of the pack as far as punters go, but several clutch kicks switched field position and momentum for the Rams during the course of the year. What can’t be overlooked is his role as the team’s holder either where has also had an epic fake field goal touchdown pass to Danny Amendola.
But let’s get back to the current batch of incoming Rams. The team may have selected both Tavon Austin and Alec Ogletree as a wide receiver and linebacker respectively, but that doesn’t mean the two of them can’t make their presence known in the game’s third phase as rookies. A great narrative from Sports Illustrated’s Peter King details a conversation between linebackers coach Frank Bush and special teams coach John Fassel. According to King, the dialogue went something like this.
Fassel asked, “Can I have Ogletree for punt blocks?”
“Yeah, he blocked six punts in college. He’s great at it,” Bush replied.
Fassel paused a moment and then said, “Wait. I don’t want him to block punts; I want to see Tavon (Austin) return ’em!”
Just how much time on the punt team the two first rounders will see is yet to be determined, but I would expect to see Austin full-time as the return man and Ogletree at least getting out there in crucial situations where teams are backed up in their own side of the field. Whether or not General Manager Les Snead had this aspect in mind when he made these selections is difficult to discern, but what isn’t as tough to understand is just how impactful both Ogletree and Austin could be in year one in all three phases of the game.