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For Rams, punter Hekker doing less but loving it more

Gary Klein, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Football

LOS ANGELES--He is a three-time Pro Bowl selection coming off a record-setting season that helped him become the highest-paid player at his position in the NFL.

And yet, on a team that has surprisingly started 6-2, Rams punter Johnny Hekker can barely get onto the field to ply his trade.

"I love it," he said Thursday.

With the Rams offense in high gear under first-year coach Sean McVay, Hekker's opportunities have decreased dramatically.

Last season, Hekker punted 43 times in the first eight games, 55 in final eight. He averaged 47.8 yards a kick.

This season, he has only 27 punts and is averaging 47.1 yards a kick.

Hekker has been most active as the holder for place-kicker Greg Zuerlein, who has made 24 of 25 field goals and leads the NFL with 99 points.

"I'm really excited to hold for field goals and PATs and cheering on the offense -- they're rolling right now," said Hekker, who in September signed an extension that includes $10 million in guarantees. "And I'm having a lot of fun in that role.

"I'm staying ready, and when my number's called I hopefully can still go in there and have good impact on field position."

Hekker is in his sixth NFL season after signing with the Rams as an undrafted free agent from Oregon State.

Teammates, especially those on offense, take it as a good sign that they have reduced Hekker's workload.

"I'm pretty sure we wore his leg out a lot since he's been here," running back Todd Gurley said, adding "The previous years he was our offense. We weren't able to get yards, he was able to put the defense in a good position. When we need him, he's always there for us."

Hekker punted only twice in each of the last two games, a 33-0 victory over the Arizona Cardinals and a 51-17 victory over the New York Giants.

He said he still was getting plenty of kicks during practices and before games.

"I don't feel rusty -- I feel fresh," he said, "and just eager to make those punts count."

Hekker has made the Pro Bowl in each of the last two seasons.

With fewer opportunities this season, that streak would seem to be in peril.

As the Rams prepare for Sunday's game against the Houston Texans, Hekker said he was not concerned.

"It's the kind of situation where that takes care of itself," he said, adding, "There are plenty of punters in the NFL that are very, very skilled and there are guys that are playing at a very high level right now that deserve all the recognition in the world.

"I will never be upset when other guys get recognition they deserve."

Really fast start

Gurley apparently was not surprised that he hit a top speed that was faster than receivers Robert Woods and Sammy Watkins in last week's victory over the New York Giants.

Gurley was clocked at 20.62 mph, Woods 20.43 and Watkins 20.33, according to the NFL.

"I've been knowing that I'm faster than those guys, so I'm not really worried about that," Gurley said, laughing.

Gurley said that he and his teammates regularly check with team trainers and strength coaches for their times.

"We're well aware of our speed and luckily Sunday we were able to showcase our speed little bit," he said. "So, that's always a good thing when you can get a player over 20 mph, that means he's probably running more than 30, 40 yards, so that's always a good thing for sure."

Etc.

Running back Malcolm Brown is nursing a knee sprain but will not require surgery, McVay said ... . Linebacker Robert Quinn (illness) and tight end Derek Carrier (hamstring) remained sidelined. ... Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who coached with the Houston Oilers and Houston Texans during his 40-year career, joked about playing the Texans: "Another vengeance game for me. I think I've got three more left after this one -- maybe four."

(c)2017 Los Angeles Times

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