Redskins

Rams' punter, special teams a key to streak

Rams' punter, special teams a key to streak

ST. LOUIS (AP) Johnny Hekker is beginning to make his mark as one of five rookie punters in the NFL.

The Rams' punt team's statistics don't give much reason for pause, ranking in the bottom third in net average, percentage of punts inside the opponents' 20 yard line, fair catches forced and several other categories. But what coach Jeff Fisher likes is Hekker's ability to help the Rams overcome their anemic offense by repeatedly ``flipping the field'' to help the defense.

``I wouldn't say I'm good at too much, but I try to be all right at a couple of things,'' Hekker said Wednesday as the Rams prepared to host Minnesota on Sunday.

The best returners aren't getting far if they do catch the ball. The Rams are tied for sixth in the number of returns attempted against them and tied for 12th with an average of 10.2 yards allowed per return.

In its 15-12 victory Sunday at Buffalo, the best punt return team in the league, Hekker punted eight times. Returner Leodis McKelvin averaged 10.2 yards in four returns, 8.5 yards below his average.

``Well, considering the quality of returners that we've faced, it seems that week after week after week, I'd say they've done an outstanding job,'' Fisher said. ``I mean, week after week we're putting a lot of pressure on Johnny to put the ball on the boundary to angle kick, which is difficult. And it seems like with consistency the guys are getting down and making the plays.''

Learning to kick directionally - away from the returner and toward the sideline - has been the key to his success. Hekker averaged just over 41 yards per punt while at Oregon State, including 44 per attempt his senior year.

Instead of booming the ball as far as he can, Hekker has worked diligently since joining the Rams at attempting to pin the returner against the sideline or kick the ball out of bounds but still get good distance on the kick.

Long snapper Jake McQuaide appreciates the approach.

``He's doing a great job punting the ball, matching his hang time with his distance, which is a huge deal for the other guys that have to cover it,'' McQuaide said. ``He's not just hitting line drive punts that the guy catches it he has 20, 30 yards of space and he can make us all miss. And he's doing a great job at direction. He's doing a great job of doing his job, being a pro and he's done it from Day 1 of being here.''

Hekker has seen plenty of action. The offense has a 33.3 percent success rate in converting third downs, ranking 28th in the league. Though Fisher feels comfortable with Greg Zuerlein attempting field goals from as far as 55 yards under any circumstance, the Rams have called on their punter 70 times.

One of those times was a run that lost 9 yards. Three were passing attempts - all completions - including one for a touchdown in a 19-13 victory against Seattle. The other 66 times, Hekker has worked on his real job of punting.

``I just got to be consistent, punt balls with good hang time, direction and distance, try and squeeze the returner up against the sideline so he doesn't have very much room,'' he said. ``Just doing my best to make sure, when there's a tackle to be made, that our guys are going to be in good positions because the ball's in the right spot.''

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Redskins vs. Jets Preseason Week 2: Date, time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

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Redskins vs. Jets Preseason Week 2: Date, time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

After a fight-filled start to joint practices between the Redskins and Jets, the Skins' 2018 NFL preseason schedule continues Thursday night at Fed Ex Field against New York. 

Week 2 of the NFL preseason still doesn't provide a lot of answers to questions about team performance, but it begins to reveal the depth the Redskins could have this season.

One storyline that won't be taking place, is the return of former Redskin Terrelle Pryor, who told reporters after Monday's practice he won't be playing in the game.

The Redskins have bigger things to worry about though, like who will replace rookie Derrius Guice, who's now out for the year with a torn ACL.

The Redskins also have one less name in the fight for receiver depth as well, after Robert Davis suffered a season-ending leg injury as well. 

Ahead of Thursday's preseason matchup, here's everything you need to know to watch.

REDSKINS vs. JETS, PRESEASON WEEK 2

Who: Washington Redskins vs. New York Jets

What: Game 2 of the 2018 NFL Preseason

When: Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018, 8:00 p.m. ET

Where: Fed Ex Field, Landover, MD

TV Channel: ESPN

Live Stream: Watch ESPN

Radio: Redskins Radio Network

Point Spread: Washington, -3

Over/Under: 39.5

Weather: 90 degrees, partly cloudy

REDSKINS vs. PATRIOTS TV SCHEDULE:

5:00 PM: Redskins 100
5:30 PM: Redskins Nation
6:00 PM: Best of the Sports Junkies
7:00 PM: Redskins Kickoff Live

REDSKINS 2018 PRESEASON SCHEDULE

Week 1: Thurs., 8/9, vs. New England Patriots, 7:30 p.m. (L, 26-17)

Week 2: Thurs., 8/16, vs. New York Jets, 8:00 p.m. (ESPN)

Week 3: Fri., 8/24, vs. Denver Broncos, 7:30 p.m. 

Week 4: Thurs., 8/30, vs. Baltimore Ravens, 7:30 p.m. 

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You can see why players get along with Jay Gruden so well in these Mic'd Up segments

You can see why players get along with Jay Gruden so well in these Mic'd Up segments

Most coaches would've let it go. In fact, plenty wouldn't have even noticed. But Jay Gruden couldn't resist.

He just had to get on Quinton Dunbar for his cutoff practice pants.

"The pants gotta be over the knees, didn't you see the uniform code violation?" Gruden barked at Dunbar while mic'd up in Richmond (the first full segment is above). "He's the least swag guy you guys got on defense and I'm just trying to help him out," he later told Deshazor Everett when Everett tried to stand up for Dunbar.

Numerous players bring up how easy Gruden is to get along with when they're prompted to evalute the 'Skins' fifth-year headman. And over the course of just one training camp session, there were a handful of examples backing that up.

There's Gruden telling Jamison Crowder to cheer up ("You always look so grouchy all the time, man"). He then hops over to check in on Morgan Moses, who just added a new baby to his family, before predicting the right tackle will end up with enough kids to fill up two starting offensive lines. 

He even gets along with former members of his team; in Part 2 of his Mic'd Up, he strolls up to now-Jet Spencer Long, quizzes him on New York's offense and then hits Long with, "Ours is better, right?"

Now's the time a certain amount of you especially angry Internet users will starting typing your HE SHOULD STOP JOKING AROUND, YOU SEE BELICHICK DOING THIS CRAP? comments. And, of course, being friendly has no influence on winning in the NFL.

But every person with a job knows that it's much easier to work with a boss that you enjoy being around as opposed to one you try to avoid being around at all costs. You can point to certain areas where Gruden needs to improve, but the fact that he treats each player — from established star to offseason longshot — equally is one place he's excellent in.

Another place he's excellent in? Rightfully calling out those who are wearing pants that are far too short.

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