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Practice Report 8/1: First Day in Pads

Posted Aug 1, 2016

Los Angeles focused on special teams for the first day in pads, with coordinator John Fassel saying he hopes to find some hidden gems. Plus, why Johnny Hekker is wearing No. 3 during training camp practices.

Though OTAs and the first two days of training camp give a little taste, it doesn’t truly feel like football until the pads come on.

That’s what happened at Monday morning’s Rams practice, which lasted about an hour and focused solely on special teams.

The club has run the first day in pads like this for the last few years. It’s a way not only to get players acclimated to wearing the equipment for the first time in around eight months, but also foster competition.

And perhaps most importantly, it’s an opportunity to see which players who may fly under the radar in other situations have good special-teams skills.

“We’ve had success over the past couple of years finding undrafted rookie free agents [who can make the 53-man roster] in these types of practices,” special teams coordinator John Fassel said after the session. “I thought we got through pretty clean with soft tissues and all that. And guys competed. We’ll check the film out and probably find a couple hidden gems like we’ve been able to do the last couple of years.”

Fassel named players such as Benny Cunningham, Chase Reynolds, Cody Davis, and Bradley Marquez as individuals who have emerged from this particular practice. Fassel said the session is important because it allows the team brass to take a look at players in situations they might not have faced before.

“The thing is, in college, there’s not a lot of special teams film on a lot of these guys … because they don’t play special teams,” Fassel said. “So to see them in a full-speed, lots-of-space environment is new for them. And that’s when you get exposed in a good or bad way.”

There are a few traits Fassel looks for in person and on film from this practice that show who might excel on the unit.

“You’re looking for guys that can run,” Fassel said. “I love to see guys that use the techniques we’ve been working on all OTAs — which have been unpadded — and the last two days. And that’s all we’ve done, is we’ve worked on the techniques that hopefully will help them out today.

“So who’s doing the right thing, who’s fighting and scrapping, who shows that they can run, and who’s also being smart about not committing penalties and those types of things,” Fassel continued. “They stand out.”

Drawing the right kind of attention is important, because the ability to contribute in this area can be a determining factor for those on the fringes of making the roster. As is well known, head coach Jeff Fisher makes having strong special teams units a priority.

“If it’s a toss up at a certain position offensively or defensively, then the trump card is special teams,” Fassel said. “And we’ve been fortunate the last couple of years that coach Fisher recognizes that and picks a guy out that looks like he might have the potential to play 25 snaps a game on special teams.”

We’ll have to see who this year’s Marquez or Cam Lynch might be. But they likely will have made a strong impression on Day 3 of camp.

HONORING A FRIEND

Late in the evening of July 23, a tragic car accident took the lives of Mike Sadler and Sam Foltz. Sadler was a punter at Michigan State and had enrolled as a student at Stanford Law. Foltz, also a punter, was entering his senior year at Nebraska.

Both were attending a kicking clinic in Wisconsin when they died.

Rams punter Johnny Hekker was a friend of Sadler’s and has been mourning the loss. The two met doing summer punting camps down in Alabama with renowned kicking coach Mike McCabe and trained together for about five years.

“I met Mike when he was going into his freshman year at Michigan State,” Hekker said on Monday. “He just could light up a room. Had more wit than an entire SNL cast. Was so smart, but didn’t really flex his brain too much unless he had to. And, man, was just always silly. Always silly and could just light up a room. But was very diligent, hard working when times called for it.”

To pay tribute his friend, Hekker has been wearing No. 3 instead of his own No. 6 during training camp practices.

“I just couldn’t help but ask coach if I could wear the number just to honor him during camp because it means that much to me, and Mike was a really special person,” Hekker said.

“You think about all the lives he touched and Sam touched — they squeezed a lot of life into the years that they were here,” Hekker added. “They were a blessing to be around. And their legacy is going to live on through a lot of people.”

Including Hekker himself.