For nearly two full calendar years, Rams kicker
The finishing touches placed on an up and down rookie season, Zuerlein is ready to finally get a little bit of time away from the grind of kicking every day.
“I’ll take a break,” Zuerlein said. “I have been kicking for almost two years straight and really haven’t got any rest so I’m pretty tired. I’ll take a couple months off just to relax and then get back to it, start kicking and start back to basics.”
You’d be hard pressed to find any rookie kicker in league history to burst on the scene with as much panache and success as Zuerlein.
After opening the season by making his first 15 field goal attempts, including record-setting boots from 58 and 60 yards, which was the longest make by a rookie kicker in NFL history, Zuerlein reached near cult hero status in St. Louis.
While many around the league were tossing out nicknames and debating which was the best for the young kicker, Zuerlein did his best to keep everything in perspective.
“You try not to look too far ahead,” Zuerlein said. “You never know. It’s tough to make every single field goal so you just try and take it in stride and keep it in perspective when you are doing well and then when you’re not try not to get too down on yourself.”
Zuerlein made his first 15 attempts of the season, including his first two in the windy and sometimes rainy conditions at Miami in week 6. From there, he missed his next three kicks from distances of 52, 37 and 66 yards.
After those three misses, Zuerlein’s second half of the season was up and down as he converted just eight of his final 16 kicks, including the three from the Miami game. He didn’t get many opportunities along the way, which made it hard for him to find a rhythm.
“Confidence is really big in kicking,” Zuerlein said. “Anytime you miss, your confidence kind of gets shaken a little bit but it’s just something that you learn from and just keep moving forward.”
Of course, in many ways Zuerlein was a victim of his own incredible early success. After not only being perfect at the beginning of the year with so many of those makes coming from 50 or more yards, Zuerlein set the bar impossibly high.
Despite the hiccup in Miami, Rams coach Jeff Fisher and special teams coach John Fassel never lost faith in Zuerlein. In fact, while he did convert just eight of his final 16 field goal tries, four of those came from 57 yards out or more and two more came from 52 yards or more.
Not that Zuerlein is OK with using those distances as some sort of excuse.
“They were makeable kicks. They wouldn’t put me out there if they didn’t think I would make it.”
That said, Zuerlein was not pleased with any of his misses, regardless of distance.
“Anytime you miss you are not going to be happy with it whether it’s a 55-yarder or a PAT, either way you are not going to be happy with it,” Zuerlein said. “Any of those kicks, I feel I should have made and I have just got to learn from it and get better.”
Despite his second half struggles, make no mistake, Zuerlein had some bright moments in the second half of the year, moments that showed plenty of ability to bounce back and learn from a miscue.
In perhaps the team’s biggest win of the season at home against San Francisco on Dec. 2; Zuerlein came up with two huge kicks, one from 53 yards to send it to overtime and then a game winning 54-yarder in overtime.
With those two kicks Zuerlein became the first kicker in league history to send a game past regulation with a 50-plus yard kick and then win a game in overtime with a make from a similar distance.
That was just a slice of the history Zuerlein made in his rookie season. His seven conversions from 50 yards or more gave him the franchise record in that department. The aforementioned 60-yarder was also a Rams franchise record for the longest make.
Zuerlein twice earned NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors along the way. So while he had the ups and downs that most rookies have in their first season, Zuerlein still thoroughly enjoyed his rookie year.
“Definitely,” Zuerlein said. “I had a great time. I wish the season had gone a little better for us and myself personally but it’s over now and we have just got to keep getting better and move forward.”
Now, Zuerlein can turn his attention to working in the offseason to avoid some of the rollercoaster ride he had in 2012. He’ll get away from kicking altogether for the next month or two before he gets back to it in time for the team’s offseason conditioning program.
Playing a position that doesn’t come with much change in terms of the fundamentals, Zuerlein said his offseason plan is to get back to basics.
“As soon as the season is over, I always take time off just to relax and let your muscles recover and then you just go out there and act like you don’t know how to kick again and just build up into the season,” Zuerlein said.
With Zuerlein, punter/holder Johnny Hekker, long snapper
“Yeah, it was actually very enjoyable,” Zuerlein said. “I’m really happy with the guys that are here; Johnny and Jake and coach Fassel and coach Boudreau Jr., the guys that we have in this locker room are great. Coach Fisher sets a good mentality and I think it just trickles down to everyone.”