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Rams punter Hekker coming off big week

Rams punter Hekker coming off big week

ST. LOUIS (AP) The perfect rookie kicker with the cannon leg has nothing on his rookie roommate with the St. Louis Rams.

Just like Greg Zuerlein, who's 13 for 13 on field goals this year, punter Johnny Hekker is fast making a name for himself. Together, the youngsters have made quite an impact. One has been able to put the Rams (3-2) in scoring position not long after they cross midfield this season and the other has done his best to pin down the opponents.

The 6-foot-5 Hekker was undrafted out of Oregon State, the alma mater of running back Steven Jackson. He set a franchise record with a 56.9-yard average in last week's victory over Arizona and had a 46-yard net average with three punts downed inside the 20.

A week earlier, the former high school quarterback threw a perfect spiral for a touchdown off a fake field goal attempt in a win over Washington. He's the franchise's lone punter to throw a TD pass since the AFL-NFL merger.

``I felt good, put the foot to the ball really well,'' Hekker said. ``It's great when it can work out like that. It's not going to happen like that every game, I wish I could have my expectations set that high.''

Now, they may be the first roommates to win special teams player of the week honors in successive weeks.

After watching with a wide grin while Zuerlein was getting interviewed the last few weeks, Hekker has turned the tables this week, calling out ``check, check, check'' for the tape recorders and TV cameras. This week, it was Zuerlein's turn to smile at the musings of the outgoing punter while waiting patiently for the crowd of reporters to clear away from his locker.

The pair share a two-bedroom apartment above a pizzeria in the St. Louis suburbs. The 22-year-old Hekker said neither does the cooking.

Special teams coach John Fassel marvels at the kids' composure, and said their success has nothing to do with teaching them the finer points.

``The best thing I do is just say `Hey guys, tell me what you need and I'll get out of the way,''' Fassel said. ``Those guys have been good. They can definitely get better, but the last couple of weeks they've been pretty good.''

During training camp, general manager Les Snead said the Rams could afford to part ways with veteran kicker Josh Brown and veteran punter Donnie Jones because they were rebuilding and were prepared for growing pains.

So far, there's been none of that with either one.

A week earlier, Zuerlein became the first kicker in NFL history to make field goals from 50-plus and 60 or longer yards. He holds the franchise record with a 60-yarder that had plenty to spare, and was the longest field goal by a rookie in NFL history.

Zuerlein finished his college career with 21 field goals in a row at Division II Missouri Western, giving him a personal streak of 34 in a row heading into Sunday's game at Miami (2-3). He missed just one of 24 attempts as a senior after beginning the year nursing a lingering hip ailment that cost him a season at Nebraska-Omaha before transferring.

Hekker had 52 punts of 50 or more yards in four years as the starting punter at Oregon State, and set a school record with a 52.5-yard average on six punts at Utah last season.

He's doing even better at the next level up with a season average of 49.5 yards, fifth best in the league, and a net of 41.2 yards that's 10th best. The Rams prized his directional punting skills out of college, the better to avoid some of the league's best return men, and against Arizona he twice avoided Patrick Peterson with efforts of 68 and 57 yards that bounced out of bounds.

On the punts that he hasn't been able to put into the corners, Hekker hasn't been afraid to mix it up. Running downfield after one punt that Peterson returned for 18 yards, the 227-pound punter sent the Cardinals' Justin Bethel sprawling with a push.

The hit landed Hekker's name on the Rams' ``big board'' for knockdowns, tackles and lockdowns.

``That's a legal play, get rid of the guys trying to block our guys,'' Hekker said. ``He would have knocked one of our guys down if he had a chance, so I had to get him first.''

Hekker added: ``I talked to him after the game to make sure he was OK.''

The Rams don't seem to mind the youthful exuberance. Attention to detail, too, from what he's absorbed in the meeting room.

``Like somebody said about him, he's a free spirit and he feels like he's a part of the cover teams,'' Fassel said. ``So, he sees us in there talking about them, coaching some things for the cover guys and he must've thought I was also talking to him. I really wasn't, but at least he's paying attention in the meetings.''

Notes: FB Brit Miller (ankle) was a full practice participant after being held out Wednesday. DE Eugene Sims (head) and DT Matt Conrath also were full go after being limited a day earlier, but DE William Hayes (back) did not practice after being limited Wednesday.

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Early favorites for Wizards' 1st round pick; Mark Turgeon joins the show

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Early favorites for Wizards' 1st round pick; Mark Turgeon joins the show

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, Chris Miller caught up with Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon at the NBA Combine.

Turgeon talked about his three draft-eligible players and what this time is like advising them. Chris and Chase Hughes also gave their early favorites for the Wizards' first round pick and their biggest takeaways from the NBA Combine measurements.

You can listen to the episode right here:

You can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts right here and on Google Play. If you like the show please tell your friends!

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Redskins G Arie Kouandjio likely out for the season

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Redskins G Arie Kouandjio likely out for the season

The news about Arie Kouandjio’s quad injury didn’t sound good when NBC Sports Washington broke it a couple of weeks ago. It didn’t sound any better when Jay Gruden said that they were seeking a second opinion. 

And now we have word that Kouandjio will be out for the season, per multiple media reports. While there was some initial hope that he might be able to play at some point this season, he is likely to be put on injured reserve soon. 

The corresponding move is expected to be the signing of guard Isaiah Williams, per JP Finlay of NBC Sports Washington. He spent training camp with the Redskins in 2016 and 2017 before being released in the final cuts. Last year he also spent time with the Chiefs and the Colts but he has yet to appear in an NFL game. 

At worst, the Redskins have lost their starter at left guard. Kouandjio was set to compete with Shawn Lauvao for that job. Lauvao, who has been the starter at left guard going into the season for each of the last four years, would have been tough to unseat, but the 26-year-old Kouandjio may have had the inside track.

And at best, the Redskins lost experienced depth. Last year, when injuries hit hard along the offensive line, Kouandjio was re-signed and he started six games. It’s tough to lose experienced depth before the players even put pads on.

We will see if the Redskins make a move to shore up the guard position. Over the next couple of weeks, teams will be evaluating their veteran players and their rookies to see if they have younger and cheaper options. That could lead to some serviceable players getting released or some quality options being put on the trading block. 

The Redskins likely are set to get four compensatory draft picks in 2019, which would give them a total of 11 selections. They certainly could afford to deal one of those picks if they are offered a chance to upgrade at left guard. 

More 2018 Redskins

- 53-man roster: Player one-liners, offense
- Tandler’s Take: Best- and worst-case scenarios for 2018
- The draft: Redskins should get 4 additional picks in 2019 draft
- Schedule series: Gotta beat the Cowboys

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.