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Rams get a kick out of rookies Zuerlein, Hekker

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Dan Arkush

darkush@pfwmedia.com
Executive editor

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By Dan Arkush

So what does Jeff Fisher actually think about starting the season with raw rookies at both placekicker and punter?

“You know what, we’re not going to punt this year, so I’m not worried about it,” the Rams’ new head coach joked at the end of April.

Truth be told, while so much inexperience at both of those positions is obviously no laughing matter — with the further likelihood that rookies also could end up returning kicks this coming season — the Rams seem to believe they couldn’t be any worse on special teams than they were last season when both P Donnie Jones and PK Josh Brown experienced uncharacteristically off years.

With money also entering the equation, particularly in the case of Brown’s $2.7 million salary, the decision has been made to go young with the kicking game, at least initially.

Enter sixth-round rookie PK Greg Zuerlein in place of Brown, who signed with the Jets, and undrafted rookie P John Hekker in place of Jones, who signed with the Texans.

“If they were going to go young, it was decided to do it now and have enough confidence in a coaching staff that is going to be here a while to work with the new guys,” one daily team observer explained. “If they stink it up early, they could still make a change.”

If the résumés of Zuerlein and Hekker are a true indication, that doesn’t figure to happen.

In private workouts, Fisher said Zuerlein blew away Rams new special-teams coach John Fassel with his leg strength. “Twenty three-of-24 and nine over 50 (yards), two over 58 in one game — that’s extraordinary,” Fisher said of Zuerlein’s kicking numbers last year at Missouri Western, which also included 30 touchbacks.

While Hekker also put up impressive numbers at Oregon State — he registered the third-best career punt yardage average at OSU with 41.3 yards per punt — our sources close to the scene thought there might have been better undrafted options available. “He’s certainly a big guy (6-5, 221),” the observer said. “Maybe they see him just continuing to get stronger.”

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