ST. LOUIS (AP) — For the St. Louis Rams, going young at positions that'll be in the spotlight on fourth down is only partly about rebuilding.
New general manager Les Snead said measured expectations of a franchise that totaled just 15 victories in the last five seasons factored into the decision to cut ties with veteran kicker Josh Brown and punter Donnie Jones in favor of promising young legs.
Especially in the case of kicker Greg Zuerlein, drafted in the sixth round minutes before the Rams made the call to Brown telling him he'd been released, it was capitalizing on a kid who's right at home beyond the 50-yard line.
"Our mantra here is we're not rebuilding," Snead said. "So, we see this guy as a weapon. We can roll him out before the half and attempt a 65-yarder, and we may steal three points."
At 6-foot-5, undrafted John Hekker of Oregon State has a frame Snead calls ideal for a long career at punter. He's the favorite to replace Jones, now with the Houston Texans.
"Definitely, it's a great position to be in," Hekker said. "It's an amazing spot to be in as a rookie. Whoever comes out on top is going to help us win some games."
Of the four kickers in camp, only one has been in an NFL camp before this July. That means plenty of youthful exuberance.
"Ah, a ton of fun," Hekker said. "Almost too much fun."
There's no better time to make a clean break. The Rams (No. 28 in AP Pro32) can live with some rookie mistakes, given they tied the Colts for the NFL's worst record last year at 2-14 and have earned the first or second draft pick four of the last five seasons.
"Considering where we are as a franchise, you're not scared to do it," Snead said. "Growing pains. Spilled milk, I call it."
Jettisoning the 33-year-old Brown saves salary cap space, plus he was coming off one of his worst seasons. Brown, now competing with Nick Folk for the job with the New York Jets, was 21 for 28 last season and far from clutch, plus he's entering the final year of a five-year, $14.2 million deal.
At the small college level, Zuerlein was nearly can't-miss. He doesn't seem in awe kicking for dollars, either, chuckling at a question about the increased pressure.
"It's a little bigger spotlight from what I'm used to," Zuerlein said. "I like it. The sky's the limit right now."
Zuerlein excelled in the Rams' home state at Missouri Western, setting an NCAA Division II record with 21 consecutive field goals, nine of which were 50 or more yards, and missed just one of 24 attempts overall. Twice, he connected from 58 yards.
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