Johnny Hekker is accustomed to seeing credit for team success directed elsewhere.
As an NFL punter, rarely does Hekker’s positive performance gain accolades from those outside his own locker room. However, Hekker’s recent contributions in a field-position battle that has routinely favored the Rams have not been lost on his coaching staff.
Overlooked in the Rams’ defensive success against Seattle was the field position battle that was won with regularity by St. Louis, largely due to the efforts of Hekker. He finished Monday night with four punts for 182 yards, an average of 45.5 yards per boot. Most importantly, Seattle’s net return average was just 2.2. Twice, the Seahawks began their drive within their own 10-yard line.
“He hit some really good balls, especially at the start of the game,” Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher said. “It seems like week after week we’re facing some really good returners and Johnny’s doing a really good job of putting the ball on the ground for us.”
The kick Fisher referenced near the start of the Monday night game was a 55-yard boot that backed the Seahawks up to their own 7-yard line. Seattle went three-and-out in the ensuing possession, setting the stage for the Rams’ first scoring drive of the game.
While playing a position that comes with an inherent standard of perfection, Hekker thrives on not linking one success or failure to his next opportunity.
“It’s really a rep-to-rep basis,” Hekker said. “As a specialist, you live in a small window of time. If you hit one well, that’s good, but if you don’t, you have to forget about it. The next rep is just as important as the one I just had. I just try to keep an even-keeled mental approach to it.”
Performances like Monday night have been the norm for Hekker since entering the league last fall. He began 2013 with a tremendous rookie season to live up to, one in which he averaged 45 yards per kick and placed 12 of his punts inside the 20. True to his rep-by-rep philosophy, Hekker did not allow his rookie success to alter his preparation for Year 2 in the NFL.
“There’s nothing special I need to do this year to top what I did last year,” Hekker said. It’s just improving my skill set overall and being consistent. If not improving statistically, improving how I feel at the end of the day, being relied on consistency to make that play for the ball out of bounds or force fair catches.”
While Hekker may not focus on living up to his standout rookie year, his numbers suggest he has done just that through Week 8. Hekker ranks second in the NFL and first in the NFC in net punt yardage at 43.1, and the Rams are one of just two NFL teams to allow fewer return yards (40) than punts (43).
“It really takes all 11 of us for that final result to be shown,” Hekker said. “That means a lot to us. We certainly take a lot of pride in it as a special teams unit, trying to force their possessions inside the 20 . I’ve set some personal goals this year, and I just want to set our defense up for some good positions this year.”
Through eight weeks, that mission has certainly been accomplished.