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Hekker's Arm an Emerging Weapon

Posted Nov 14, 2012


It wasn’t the first thing the Rams were looking for when they went shopping for a new punter in the offseason but make no mistake, they wanted to find someone blessed with not only a strong kicking leg but also a capable throwing arm as well.

Although it sounds funny that the search for a punter included seeing whether he could throw, Rams coach Jeff Fisher has maintained that it was certainly on the checklist in some capacity.

Considering what rookie Johnny Hekker has done with both his right leg and right arm, maybe more teams will add that versatility as a key component for their punter position.

“It had a lot to do with it, actually,” Fisher said. “We liked that as a potential additional weapon. He does and it tends to keep people off guard and it gives you opportunities to make plays.”

Little more than halfway through his rookie season, Hekker has made a bit of a habit of making plays that go beyond booming punts or the perfectly angled kick.

After completing two passes in as many fake punt attempts last week against San Francisco, Hekker’s passing skills have placed him among rarefied air when it comes to punter slinging the ball. He threw twice for 40 yards, including one fake that essentially amounted to a hot read.

According to ESPN.com, Hekker is the first punter since 1981 to complete three passes in a season and has a chance to become one of just three punters ever to have at least that many completions without an incompletion.

For a guy who says his team “ran a couple of fakes” during his college career at Oregon State, Hekker has proved a more than capable passer and a downright weapon on punt fakes. For the record, he was four-of-five for 35 yards for the Beavers.

“He did a great job on Sunday,” Rams quarterback Sam Bradford said. “I’m not sure that the first one was called, I think that was on his own. That’s pretty gutsy. Then he did a great job on the second fake just to keep that drive going for us and allow us to go down there and take the lead.”

For the season, Hekker is three-for-three for 42 yards and a touchdown for a perfect passer rating of 158.3. As the season progresses, he’s seen that the Rams weren’t joking when they had him throw some passes in a pre-draft workout.

“On the pro day when Coach (John) Fassel came out he had me throw a little bit,” Hekker said. “They ran a couple routes and I was able to stick ‘em on ‘em good and I guess I left a good impression.”
Hekker played quarterback at Bothell (Wash.) High and estimates he threw 25 to 30 touchdown passes at that level. There, he wore No. 18 in no small part because he was a big fan of Peyton Manning.

But his favorite quarterback has since changed.

“My idol is Sam Bradford, he’s one of the best quarterbacks around, no doubt about it,” Hekker said. “Sam’s a great guy. If I could be half the quarterback Sam is, I’d be really happy.”

Asked whether he ever jokes with Bradford about a burgeoning quarterback controversy, Hekker wisely declares that he avoids rookie missteps such as that.

“I’m not in a position to tease anybody,” Hekker said. “I’m a punter, I know my place.”

GIVENS, JENKINS RETURN: After sitting out Sunday’s game against San Francisco because of a violation of a team rule, cornerback Janoris Jenkins and wideout Chris Givens returned to the practice field on Wednesday.

Fisher said the pair will play this weekend though declined to say whether they’d reclaim the starting jobs they had going into the Niners game.

“They re-joined the program,” Fisher said. “The issues are behind them. They have been addressed and they are back on the practice field.”

Givens and Jenkins addressed the media Wednesday afternoon and expressed remorse for their mistake as they described the frustration that goes with letting the team down.

“It was very difficult,” Givens said. “I let everyone in the organization down. That’s just not the type of image I want to have and not the type of way I want to portray myself to the team. I am sorry about the mistake I made and it won’t happen again.”

Jenkins echoed those sentiments, saying he hopes the time has come to move on and ensure that it never happens again.

“Yeah, I’m looking forward to moving forward,” Jenkins said. “It happened. There’s nothing I can do about it except not put myself in that situation.”

Both Jenkins and Givens apologized to their teammates and coaches before returning to practice.

“I talked to the team and let them know I am sorry for leaving them hanging like that and just letting them down on such short notice,” Givens said. “It’s something they supported me and they told me I have got to learn from my mistakes and go and move forward.”

Bradford said moving forward shouldn’t be a problem and he doesn’t believe it’s a matter of winning trust back.

“I think the big thing is showing everyone that they’re going to be accountable,” Bradford said. “Obviously those are two of our key guys. When they’re not in the lineup we are not as good as we could be. It’s important for those guys to be on the field. They’ve helped us all year. There’s no doubt in my mind that stuff is going to be a non-issue from here out. They’re going to get back on the field and they’re going to continue to help us.”

INJURY REPORT: A little more than halfway through the season the Rams might be healthier than they have been in quite some time.

In fact, all 52 of the players on the Rams current roster participated in at least some capacity in Wednesday afternoon’s practice.

The result was an injury report that was nothing short of a quick read. Receiver Austin Pettis (toe), safety Darian Stewart (knee) and end Eugene Sims (knee) participated on a limited basis and were the only players on the list.

Conversely, the Jets listed 19 players on their injury report, though 14 of those were listed as full participants.

Perhaps the most intriguing injury news for the Rams actually involved a player not on the injury report, center Scott Wells. Wells, who is working his way back from a foot injury, participated on a limited basis as well in Wednesday’s practice.

“He’s coming along well,” Fisher said. “He did a little bit more. We’ll just have to wait until the end of the week.”

Wells remains on the injured reserve/special designation list for the Rams but is eligible to come off at any time. 

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