Rams punter Hekker coming off big week

Associated Press Modified: October 11, 2012 at 5:32 pm •  Published: October 11, 2012
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ST. LOUIS (AP) — The perfect rookie kicker with the cannon leg has nothing on his rookie roommate with the St. Louis Rams.

Just like Greg Zuerlein, who's 13 for 13 on field goals this year, punter Johnny Hekker is fast making a name for himself. Together, the youngsters have made quite an impact. One has been able to put the Rams (3-2) in scoring position not long after they cross midfield this season and the other has done his best to pin down the opponents.

The 6-foot-5 Hekker was undrafted out of Oregon State, the alma mater of running back Steven Jackson. He set a franchise record with a 56.9-yard average in last week's victory over Arizona and had a 46-yard net average with three punts downed inside the 20.

A week earlier, the former high school quarterback threw a perfect spiral for a touchdown off a fake field goal attempt in a win over Washington. He's the franchise's lone punter to throw a TD pass since the AFL-NFL merger.

"I felt good, put the foot to the ball really well," Hekker said. "It's great when it can work out like that. It's not going to happen like that every game, I wish I could have my expectations set that high."

Now, they may be the first roommates to win special teams player of the week honors in successive weeks.

After watching with a wide grin while Zuerlein was getting interviewed the last few weeks, Hekker has turned the tables this week, calling out "check, check, check" for the tape recorders and TV cameras. This week, it was Zuerlein's turn to smile at the musings of the outgoing punter while waiting patiently for the crowd of reporters to clear away from his locker.

The pair share a two-bedroom apartment above a pizzeria in the St. Louis suburbs. The 22-year-old Hekker said neither does the cooking.

Special teams coach John Fassel marvels at the kids' composure, and said their success has nothing to do with teaching them the finer points.

"The best thing I do is just say 'Hey guys, tell me what you need and I'll get out of the way,'" Fassel said. "Those guys have been good. They can definitely get better, but the last couple of weeks they've been pretty good."

During training camp, general manager Les Snead said the Rams could afford to part ways with veteran kicker Josh Brown and veteran punter Donnie Jones because they were rebuilding and were prepared for growing pains.

So far, there's been none of that with either one.

A week earlier, Zuerlein became the first kicker in NFL history to make field goals from 50-plus and 60 or longer yards. He holds the franchise record with a 60-yarder that had plenty to spare, and was the longest field goal by a rookie in NFL history.

Zuerlein finished his college career with 21 field goals in a row at Division II Missouri Western, giving him a personal streak of 34 in a row heading into Sunday's game at Miami (2-3). He missed just one of 24 attempts as a senior after beginning the year nursing a lingering hip ailment that cost him a season at Nebraska-Omaha before transferring.

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