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Countdown to Camp 2016 - Special Teams

Posted Jul 20, 2016

The Rams are just 10 days away from opening Los Angeles' first training camp in two decades. Get to know the team through each of its position groups with Countdown to Camp.

With the Rams getting training camp started in just 10 days, it’s time for our annual Countdown to Camp series. From now until July 30, we’ll go over who’s who in each position group to get you primed and ready for Los Angeles’ first training camp in over 20 years.

Countdown to Camp also requires your help. We’ll answer a question or two from social media in each post, so be sure to submit one every day if you have it.

Today, we begin with the special teams. If you have a question about our next position group, linebackers, be sure to send it over via Twitter, Facebook, or leave it in the comments below.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Newcomers: K Taylor Bertolet, LS Jeff Overbaugh

For 2016, the Rams special teams unit opens training camp retaining its three core specialists — punter Johnny Hekker, kicker Greg Zuerlein, and long snapper Jake McQuaide.

Coming off an outstanding 2015, Hekker enters his fifth year as the Rams’ punter. He earned his second Pro Bowl berth last year by leading the league in punts downed inside the 20-yard line (41), gross punt average (47.9 yards), and net average (43.7 yards). That he led the league with those averages is made more impressive given Hekker also topped the NFL in punts (96).

Additionally, Hekker used his arm talent last year, converting a 20-yard fake punt to safety Cody Davis in Green Bay. Hekker’s now 6-of-10 passing for 99 yards and a touchdown in his career.

While L.A. will continue to rely on Hekker to flip field position, the club would undoubtedly like to have him punt fewer times in 2016.

Zuerlein re-signed with the Rams on a one-year deal this offseason after a tough 2015. The kicker made only 20 of his 30 attempted field goals, and also missed two of his 28 extra-point attempts. Zuerlein did match his own feat from 2012 when he converted a field goal of at least 50 and 60 yards in the same game against Minnesota last year, but Los Angeles will be looking for more steadiness from the position in 2016.

McQuaide has been a paragon of consistency since becoming the Rams’ long snapper in 2011. He’s back for his sixth season with the franchise, having recorded 732 clean snaps through his first five years in the NFL.

Los Angeles also brought on two undrafted free agents for their preseason roster — kicker Taylor Bertolet of Texas A&M and long snapper Jeff Overbaugh of San Diego State. Bertolet converted 22-of-31 field goals for the Aggies in 2015. Overbaugh signed his contract in June after a tryout with the club. He registered 510 consecutive clean snaps in college.

QUESTION OF THE DAY

In each Countdown to Camp post, we’ll take a question or two from you fans on social media. Today, we’ll start with one from Bryan H.

Good question, Bryan. Clearly the first part of this post focused only on the specialists, and that’s mainly because the rest of the special teams contributors are listed at other positions. 

Bates, who signed with the Raiders as a free agent this offseason, undoubtedly played a significant role on special teams over the last few years. You could find him making significant contributions all over the units, which led to him being named a captain in 2015.

So where does that leave the Rams without Bates? Well, one of the key aspects of special teams is the unit is assembled from many different position groups so it isn’t dependent on one player. That’s why you’ll see running back Chase Reynolds out there as a special teams ace, or wide receiver Bradley Marquez. Head coach Jeff Fisher noted after the draft rookie tight end Temarrick Hemingway could be one of the most productive special teams players in 2016, given his history of excelling on multiple units in college.

And speaking of rookies making an impact on special teams, that leads us to our next question…

This is another good question, but I’m going to expand the reach a bit.

If you’re unfamiliar, Brian Randolph signed with Los Angeles this offseason as a UDFA out of Tennessee. With the changes in the Rams’ secondary, there’s a possibility Randolph could make a defensive impact at some point in 2016. But, like all college free agents, Randolph will have to first make the team through special teams.

Every year, the Rams have a couple UDFAs make the initial 53-man roster because they’re versatile enough to play STs. Last year for instance, Fisher noted Marquez’s special teams skills during the preseason, and he went on to play on many of the units. Linebacker Cameron Lynch was another player who made his mark via special teams.

Could Randolph be one of those players this year? Certainly. But he’ll have stiff competition when it comes to making an impact. We’ll have a better idea how he could fit after a few camp practices.

Thanks for the questions, Bryan and Ollie. We’ll be back tomorrow with our second position group — linebackers. If you’ve got a question about the group now led by Alec Ogletree, send ‘em over via Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments below.

The Rams are holding training camp at UC Irvine — and we hope to see you there. The first session is July 30 at 3:30 p.m. For details, visit our training camp page here.