It feels like Greg Zuerlein has been kicking field goals for the St. Louis Rams for years now. Check again, the rookie kicker's professional career spans all of two NFL games. It only seems like the Missouri Western product and sixth-round pick has been doing this forever because it comes so easy to him, from 60-yarders in practice to all six of the three-pointers he has in those two games.
Zuerlein faces the toughest test of his professional career on Sunday: the stiff Lake Michigan winds blowing through Soldier Field.
Rams special teams coach John Fassel admitted to being struck by Zuerlein's ability and potential. "I've had the chance to be a part of guys that have been very good, but later in their careers," Fassel said. "With Greg, he's got a great potential. So far he's produced and if he can keep that up then the sky's the limit for Greg."
So far, both of Zuerlein's game have been indoors, inside Ford Field in Detroit and home at the Edward Jones Dome. Both fields consistently rank among the easiest places to kick a field goal. Soldier Field in Chicago is at the opposite end of the spectrum, Zuerlein's toughest regular season test to date.
He passed one of his first challenges with flying colors, the dreaded icing ploy from Mike Shanahan last week, thanks to his work in practice.
"It's funny because we practiced it a few times and we did it in pregame warm-ups, where I called a timeout right before he kicked it and settled him down and do it again," Fassel said. "But he did hear the whistle and we were going to kick it anyways just even though we knew it was a timeout."
Zuerlein missed the kick after the whistle blew, but Fassel said that was by design.
The Rams also practice kicking outdoors, but beating the elements on Lake Michigan may have more to do with Zuerlein's other assets, his leg speed and his head.
"He's not a big guy," Fassel said. "You see him in the mall, he looks like any other 24 year-old walking around. But his leg speed is incredible. One of the best things about him is he gets the ball up fast. He's not like a low trajectory kicker. I mean, that thing gets up fast and the distance is there. Most of his balls are pretty true, it's not a right to left or left to right. He's got a chance to be pretty good."
The simple trick of mind over matter, Fassel says, is the most important part of his kicker's ability.
"His brain," Fassel said when asked where Zuerlein's strength comes from. "He thinks he can make and he doesn't have to over-swing it to hit it. A 25-yard field goal to him is the same as a 65-yard field goal. Every kick, which is great about him, is the same. He doesn't kind of just tender-foot the short ones and he doesn't try to kill the long ones. Every one's the same. He thinks he can make it and if we had the chance, he probably could."
Greg the Leg and his fellow rookie specialist, punter Johnny Hekker who was up for the Rookie of the Week Award, are a core part of a reinvigorated Rams team, and will be for years to come.
"You know, two young guys with big legs with a lot of room for growth," Fassel said. "It's exciting to coach them."