Patriots

Bill Belichick can't stop calling Rams punter Johnny Hekker 'a weapon'

patriots_bill_belichick_112716.jpg

Bill Belichick can't stop calling Rams punter Johnny Hekker 'a weapon'

FOXBORO -- Ed Reed. Jason Taylor. Larry Fitzgerald. Johnny Hekker.

One of these is not like the others.

Every week Patriots coach Bill Belichick heaps a certain level of praise on the best players his team is about to face, but there are certain individuals who urge Belichick to take his admiration to another level. Oftentimes those are surefire Hall of Famers or All-Pros, like the first three names mentioned above. But during his Wednesday morning press conference with reporters, Belichick went above and beyond on a punter. 

For Belichick, Rams punter Hekker represents a unique kind of football talent, an endangered species, a rare jewel. On a team full of impressive athletes, Belichick considers Hekker to be one of their best. That Hekker happens to use his foot to push the football down the field and change field position . . . well that made Belichick, a former special teams coach, ratchet up the flattery to an 11. 

"Hekker is a tremendous weapon," Belichick said, unprovoked. "I mean, this guy is as good a player as I've ever seen at that position. He's a tremendous weapon in his ability to punt the ball, punt it inside the 20, directonal kick it, involved in fakes, can throw, can run, very athletic . . . He's dangerous. Absolutely. He's like a quarterback. He can throw. He can run. You gotta defend him like you defend one of those guys."

Hekker and the Patriots have an interesting shared history. Back in 2008, he walked onto the Oregon State football team along with another freshman punter named Ryan Allen. Hekker won the job, and a scholarship, and Allen didn't have a chance to get on the field for two seasons. He eventually transferred to Louisiana Tech, won the Ray Guy Award twice as the nation's top collegiate punter, and was signed by the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2013. 

While Belichick certainly appreciates Allen and the way he's performed over the last four seasons, he went on and on about Allen's former college teammate, comparing Hekker to Guy, Saints punter Thomas Morestead and former Giants punters Dave Jennings and Sean Landetta.

"They're all great players," Belichick said. "I'm not taking anything away from them . . . But I mean this guy is -- this guy is a weapon. I mean he's not a good player. He's a weapon . . . You're talking about an athlete with Hekker now. He's a little more athletic than Landeta. Just to pick a name. I'd say Ray Guy . . . Ray kicked for a great average, but these guys [the Rams] lead the league in punt coverage. Lead the league in gross punting. Lead the league in net punting. Lead the league in inside the 20, and lead the league in punt coverage. I mean, if you're in front of one of those catergories that's pretty good. Last year they led the league in all three. They're right up there this year. Plus [Hekker's] a threat on fakes and stuff like that."

Belichick was asked, though, if he would like to see Hekker get a large workload on Sunday.

"Yeah. Right. Just gotta make sure we get the ball," he said. "Another part of the problem is just catching the ball. He kicks it so far and makes the returner move for it. They run over there, they mishandle it, or it hits the ground and rolls for another 20 yards. It's a tough ball to catch because you're not just shagging flies out there. He's making you run, and he's kicking it over your head.

"The ball-handling is tough for the returners too. Very tough. The Jets had a lot of trouble with it. Carolina . . . He's had several punt this year where they can't get to the ball and it rolls 20 yards. Fifty becomes 70. Forty-five becomes 65. It changes field position [in] one play. You think you're going to get the ball with good field position and you're at the 15-yard line.

"But, yeah, to your point, I hope he gets a good workout."

Sources: Patriots not interested in bringing back Antonio Brown

Sources: Patriots not interested in bringing back Antonio Brown

Once bitten, twice shy.

Two sources with knowledge of the Patriots thinking scoffed at the idea Antonio Brown would rejoin the Patriots this season.

When one source was asked if there was a chance the wideout – who was with the Patriots for less than two tumultuous weeks in September – might have a chance at rejoining the team, this was the two-word response.

“What’s changed?”

I mentioned Brown’s social media apology to owner Robert Kraft earlier in the week and his meeting last week with the NFL as possibly changing the equation.

I was told that it does not.

At issue aren’t hurt feelings that Brown couldn’t fix with a few keystrokes. It’s the wariness of something else cropping up down the road.

When the Patriots signed Brown, there was no advance notice from Brown’s agent Drew Rosenhaus that Brown was on the cusp of being slapped with a lawsuit by his former trainer Britney Taylor even though the legal wrangling between Brown and Taylor’s attorneys had been going on for months.

And while it was subsequently reported Rosenhaus couldn’t break a confidentiality agreement Brown supposedly had in place, the fact that the Patriots entered into the Brown experience not knowing at all that that bombshell was waiting to explode makes them unwilling to go down the same road again.

Florio: If Patriots don’t sign Antonio Brown, "somebody else will">>>

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

Patriots Talk Podcast: Mike Florio on Antonio Brown situation; Robert Kraft-Jerry Jones rivalry

patriots_talk_podcast_cvs.png
NBC Sports Boston Illustration

Patriots Talk Podcast: Mike Florio on Antonio Brown situation; Robert Kraft-Jerry Jones rivalry

Tom E. Curran is joined by Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk, who discusses the latest on Antonio Brown's legal situation and a potential reunion with the Patriots, as well as New York Times journalist Mark Leibovich — author of the book "Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times" — who talks about the off-field rivalry between Robert Kraft and Jerry Jones, in this new episode of Tom Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast.

4:09 — Tom Curran is joined by Mike Florio to talk about the emerging new details of Antonio Brown's legal situation and how it relates to his possible return.

12:22 — Mike explains why the NFL's disciplinary system for players who violate the league's personal conduct policy is not fair.

14:52 — Will the Patriots try to resign Antonio Brown if he is cleared? Tom and Mike discuss how close the wide receiver actually is to making a return to football and why the Patriots might go after him.

21:46 — Tom is joined by author and journalist at the New York Times Mark Leibovich to discuss the off-the-field rivalry between Robert Kraft and Jerry Jones.

28:12 — Is there inherent jealousy between the two owners based on their own success?

33:40 â€” Mark gives his take on the Patriots' upcoming matchup with the Dallas Cowboys.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.