Not only are the St. Louis Rams relying on a rookie kicker and punter to carry the load this season, but those rookies now have matching hardware after each has been named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week once in the past two weeks.
Rams K Greg Zuerlein was the player of the week in week four when he kicked four field goals, including kicks of 58 and 60 yards, to help the Rams beat the Seattle Seahawks. Last week P Johnny Hekker won an award of his own when he netted 322 yards on seven punts, putting three inside the 20-yard line against the Arizona Cardinals and their electric punt returner Patrick Peterson. In all, it’s been a pretty good few weeks for the duo.
Despite all the recent accolades, Rams special teams coordinator John Fassel refuses to take credit for the unit’s early success.
“Absolutely not,” Fassel said. “The best thing I do is just say, ‘Hey, guys, tell me what you need and I’ll get out of the way.’”
Of all the ways in which the Rams have improved in 2012, the play of the special teams unit may be the most integral to the team’s early success. Zuerlein is a perfect 13-for-13 on field goals this season, and both the punt and kick teams have yet to allow a return touchdown. The Rams allowed three such touchdowns in 2011.
Hekker said keeping the ball out of the hands of dangerous returners – and out of the end zone in the process – has been one of his focal points in the earlygoing.
“The caliber of returners I’m going to face week in and week out is going to be high,” Hekker said. “These guys are amazing – it’s why they’re paid the big bucks to do what they do. If anything it just gives me a heightened awareness and puts a little more stress on directional punting, making sure we limit their return space, putting those balls out of bounds and not letting them get their hands on it, because those guys are really dangerous with the ball.”
Hekker has been an unsung hero, but his roommate Zuerlein has quickly become the talk of the town. With more nicknames than full NFL seasons under his belt, Zuerlein and his right leg gained league-wide notoriety when he drilled a then-Rams record 58-yard field goal in the first half against the Seahawks only to break his own record two quarters later when he split the uprights from 60 yards out.
Asked if they would have enough space in their apartment for the awards they’re piling up, Hekker said only time will tell.
“We haven’t seen Greg’s award, so we’re not sure how much shelf space we’re going to need,” Hekker said. “I guess once we get that we’ll start clearing space.”
As for Fassel, he plans to continue to aid in the success of his young kickers the best way he knows how – by doing as little as possible.
“We kind of have a plan at practice – how many we’re going to kick, where we’re going to kick them,” Fassel said, “and I kind of just let them go about it, because they’re good and I don’t want to screw them up.”