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Practice Report 8/10: Drilling Special Teams

Posted Aug 10, 2016

Los Angeles held its second special teams only practice of training camp on Wednesday, which finished with a special competition.

With the usual camp battles brewing on offense and defense, it’s sometimes easy to overlook the competition for the the Rams’ third unit — special teams.

The club puts a high priority on finding players who can contribute there at a high level, which is why sessions like Wednesday’s special-teams only practice are important. Last week, the club used the same type of time period to take a basic look at how players competed. For Aug. 10, Los Angeles went without pads to work more on skill development in anticipation of the first preseason game on Saturday night.

Special teams coordinator John Fassel — better known around the team as ‘Coach Bones’ — put the players through a few circuits of drills, and also had them work through kickoffs and punts.

“We like to see on tape, individual guys moving, reacting, bending, twisting, turning — all of the stuff that shows up when you start doing 11-on-11,” Fassel said. “Plus it’s fun to kind of compact some things and do some different drills.”

Aside from performing well on the field, one of the best ways to make a good impression with Fassel is to hang around the coach in his office. The way linebacker Cameron Lynch described it is reminiscent of students going to office hours with a college professor, saying he, Bryce Hager, and Bradley Marquez were constantly around.

“When I was a rookie, I was in Bones’ office every single day,” Lynch said. “Every day after practice, we sit now — nine, 10 o’clock — ‘Hey Bones, can we get some extra work in?’ So that was our mentality last year — me, Brad, Bryce — was just to make sure we’re in Bones’ ear and face at all times. And we just went all out during practice and the games and it showed.”

“They just can’t get enough,” Fassel said. “We just watch film, we watch them in the drill, we watch other NFL players who we think are really good on special teams, the similar positions. Something about a football player that just can’t get enough football that seems to always have the edge.”

Because the first preseason game is now just a few days away, Lynch said it’s important for players to make sure they know exactly what they need to do for the different units in order to make the best impression.

“That determines whether you make the team or not, whether or not you can learn the counting system when it comes to punt. Or kickoff return, knowing who to block so they won’t bust through your coverage,” Lynch said. “It’s a transition. And as long as you’re open to trying new things and trying your hardest, Bones will give you praise. If you just try your best, Bones will appreciate it.”

According to Fassel, there are elements of the game that are more apparent in the preseason matchups, which makes them essential for determining roster spots. There are a few specific attributes he’s looking for during the game on on film.

“I think guys that are willing to collide and be open-field tacklers,” Fassel said. “Out here, we can simulate the movements and the techniques, but when you get in the game, and you’ve got a live runner and you’ve got to square him up and collide and block, or two-gap and tackle — those things really stand out that is different from what we get on the practice field.”

KICKING AT THE COLISEUM

One among the many adjustments Rams players will have to make playing at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum this year has to do with sight lines and the kicking game.

“There’s a depth perception at either end with the field goals. One side where it’s the torch and it’s kind of an arch with a hole in it, so there’s some depth perception. Then, the other side is just a huge grandstand, bowl,” Fassel said. “There’s things we worked on in the Coliseum, targets, because there is some weird sighting depending on which way you kick.”

While place kicking is one thing, punter Johnny Hekker said he’s not too worried about how his job will be affected.

“Definitely being in a big bowl where the stands are kind of set back from the field is a little different — getting mental pictures. But the wind is the same for every punter and every kicker that comes in there,” Hekker said. “That’s what pregame is for. You get used to what you’re doing. You go in there with a game plan.”

“We’re going to hopefully get in the Coliseum a couple more times before the regular season starts and try to figure it out, because it definitely swirls a little bit,” Hekker continued. “But it’s the same for everybody. The field’s 100 yards long. We’ve all got to play the same game.”

AUGUST MADNESS

As has become tradition in the Rams’ second special teams camp practice, Fassel finished the session off with some friendly competition. He calls it “August Madness” or the “Strong Man” competition.

“There’s a ball, two guys, they each get to put a hand on it and on my whistle, they try to yank it from the other,” Fassel said. “It starts with maybe 32 guys, you lose, now there’s 16, losers out — just whittle it down to the one shining moment.”

Wideout Duke Williams was the last man standing, beating out Zach Laskey for a pretty nice prize.

“A Bose speaker system from Hekker,” Fassel said. “I think it was a couple hundred bucks.”

Well, that may have been the value. But it wasn’t exactly the price.

“A little Bose gift that was actually sent to me by Bose,” Hekker said. “So it’s the gift that keeps on giving. So I’m just glad to pass it on.”

That’s right — Hekker re-gifted.

“It was repackaged quite professionally, so we’ll see if [Williams] can even tell,” Hekker said.

Even if he couldn't, he probably knows now.