“I expected to do better than I have been doing,” Zuerlein said. “Last year wasn’t a good year for me, and this year’s been good so far, but there’s been some games where I haven’t felt like I’ve been hitting the ball that great. You’ve got to put them all right down the middle.”
While his first four games fail to live up to his own lofty standards, Zuerlein’s start—by any statistical measure—has been a cut above the vast majority of his peers. In a job that demands perfection, Zuerlein has achieved just that through the first quarter of the season, connecting on all six field-goal attempts and converting each of his five extra points.
The success Zuerlein has had in the first four weeks of this season could be traced to what was a much more relaxed offseason than the one he experienced entering his rookie year. Following his senior year at Missouri Western University, Zuerlein’s kicked nearly year-round, including multiple offseason workouts prior to joining St. Louis. Special Teams Coordinator John Fassel made an effort to lighten Zuerlein’s kicking load during the offseason, and the dividends have been evident.
In addition to putting the ball through the uprights, Zuerlein’s leg strength has been at its best since entering the league, as he’s forced touchbacks on 81.3 percent of his kickoffs, the third-best rate in the league.
The Rams have historically hinged their success in the kicking game on established veterans. Since 1997, the Rams have employed just three kickers—Josh Brown, all-time leading scorer Jeff Wilkins and Zuerlein. Both Brown and Wilkins cut their NFL teeth elsewhere before joining St. Louis.
Zuerlein became the first rookie kicker to be handed the reins in St. Louis since Steve McLaughlin in 1995. Despite the organization’s historical lean toward veteran kickers, Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher showed no hesitation in taking full advantage of his young offensive weapon in the most challenging of situations. Zuerlein attempted 13 field goals of 50 or more yards in 2012, converting seven of them, including a team-record 60-yarder against Seattle in Week 4.
While his rookie year was stellar in many aspects, it was not without its occasional challenges.
Success in the NFL can be fleeting for any player, but particularly for those at Zuerlein’s position. After beginning his rookie season by connecting on his first 15 field-goal attempts, Zuerlein missed three of his five attempts in a 17-14 loss to Miami. Zuerlein finished the year by drilling eight of his last 13 attempts, but perhaps most importantly, drilled his first game-winner in Week 12 against San Francisco. Zuerlein credits an unwavering faith in preparation and in-game methods as the key to emerging quickly from short-lived struggles.
“You’ve got to try and not worry about it, even though that’s tough to do,” Zuerlein said. “You know you can do it, you’ve just got to believe in it. If there is something wrong, you can make slight changes and not drastic changes. Otherwise, it will keep getting worse.”
Through four weeks of Year 2, nothing has been getting worse for Zuerlein.