St. Louis Rams special teams coach John Fassel talked to the press on Wednesday after practice. As you would expect, much of the conversation centered on the two rookies, punter Johnny Hekker and kicker Greg Zuerlein, that make up the backbone of the Rams third pillar.
Greg the Leg and Hekker started the season strong, and have faded in recent weeks. It's probably just the rookie wall, the wear and tear of the season. At least they've shown what they're capable of doing.
(On how to correct P Johnny Hekker's recent mistakes)
"We've been working on it and he has had about one a game, I guess, the last couple games. Really, in his defense, what we ask of him is pretty advanced punt work, especially for a rookie. We're asking him, obviously, to directional punt it but give us great distance, and there's not a lot of punters in the league that can do both. There's directional guys and then there's big leg guys, but there's not a lot of combination guys. I guess (P) Thomas Morstead for the Saints would be a rare guy that can do both. Johnny is a guy that can do both and he'll continue to get better. We've just got to eliminate those one a game that just isn't his best.
Hekker's punting average is 45.4 yards and a net average of 39.2 yards, both numbers rank 21st among punters. He's kicked 17 punts out of bounds, more than any punter in the league, and put 20 punts inside the 20-yard line.
(On if they can work on the issue that a majority of K Greg Zuerlein's misses have been from 57 yards or longer)
"No, because with Greg - and we've said it from the start - a 57-yard field goal for Greg is a 35-yard field goal. The swing doesn't change. Obviously, the further you are away, the smaller the goal posts look, but the one in this past game, he just mis-hit it. That probably would have been missed from 35 yards. He just didn't hit it good. We've asked a lot of him, too. We've asked a lot of deep kicks out of him. These guys are getting great work. They're rookies, so they're going to miss a punt and they're going to miss a field goal. I'll be honest: they've exceeded my expectations from what we've asked of them and there's no doubt they're just going to keep getting better. I think they have huge, tremendous futures in the league."
A miss is a miss, though it's somewhat of a relief to know that he didn't miss the 57-yard attempt last week because he didn't have the leg on it. In six of the Rams' last nine games, Zuerlein has attempted field goals, missing at least one kick in five of those games. He was a perfect 12-for-12 in the Rams' first four games of the season.
(On the mental approach of Hekker and Zuerlein)
"It's been great. I'm used to that from the last couple years. So, I have a good experience with that. They're young guys and I think it's good to be kind of a knucklehead because they're not high-strung. They're definitely not high maintenance. They've got thick skin. The crowd booed Johnny after that one punt. I said, ‘Hey, it's good for you. If you're going to punt in the league for a long time, which you are, you've got to get thick skin.' It's been a really solid year for all of us. Gone through, obviously, some ups and downs, but we talked about it."
Knuckleheads. Love that term. Anyway, he's reminding you that these guys are young, new to the league. Talent alone gets you so far, but experience counts too.
(On Coach Fisher saying that if you can see the name of the opponent, don't block him)
"Yeah. It was a young guy, he was chasing and he was working and the guy turned on him and he blocked him in the back. That was his (TE Cory Harkey) third game, I think, he's played in. It happens a lot. It's not a rookie mistake, it's just a mistake that happens a lot that we have to avoid. I've got to do a better job drilling some stuff in practice so we stay penalty-free, because we've had three big returns in the last couple weeks that have all been called back by penalty."
We'll see what happens this week.
(On if he believes he has good enough return guys on the roster right now)
"Yeah. (WR) Danny (Amendola), to me, is one of the better punt returners in the league. He just hasn't been healthy the last two years. (WR) Chris (Givens) is a good, young guy that really hasn't had a lot of kickoff return practice, even in college. (WR Austin) Pettis has done a good job of handling the football. It's winning outside on our hold ups, it's winning inside versus their interior and it's getting them to hit the right ball to us so we can get some field space to return. So, yeah, we have the returners."
I'd have to disagree on the kick returns. Maybe it is just a matter of learning the role for Givens, but in this day and age I think it's worth having a specialist in that role. That's a big need the Rams have to fill during the offseason.
(On Buccaneers PR/WR Roscoe Parrish)
"He's super. I've played against him since he was in Buffalo. What is it, seven, eight years now? He's a little guy that is really hard to tackle because he's got old crazy legs. We talked about that in the meeting this morning. (Former Ram) Elroy Hirsch. He's old crazy legs. Little guy that can make anybody miss and is a guy you've really got to rally, as a cover team, to get him down because it's really hard for one guy, in the open field, to get him down by himself. A lot of respect for Roscoe."
Case in point.