Zuerlein Makes Strong First Impression

Posted Aug 4, 2012

On a day when rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein made his debut in front of a crowd about three times the size of what he’s used to in a stadium about 10 times the size of what he’s used to and converted all but one of his field goal attempts, he couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed.

Nevermind that Zuerlein, who has quickly earned the nickname “The Leg,” had just easily converted his first five field goal tries including a 59-yard attempt he hit with plenty of room to spare. No, Zuerlein isn’t happy with anything but perfection even if his only miss came from 64 yards; mind you sailing a little to the left not short, a distance that would be good for a league record had he made it.

“It was all right,” Zuerlein said. “I had the distance; I just didn’t connect on it. I’d like to make every kick and when I don’t it’s kind of disappointing. Other than that, it was a good day.”

Zuerlein won over the nearly 13,000 fans in attendance at the Edward Jones Dome for the team’s annual scrimmage and first Fan Fest during the field goal kicking drills near the end of the practice.

After fellow kicker Garrett Lindholm stepped up and hit his three tries from distances of 39, 44 and 49 yards out, Zuerlein followed suit by hitting from the same ranges. Of course, Zuerlein’s kicks all seemed to still be on an upward trajectory as they sailed through the uprights.

Then, as per the script, Zuerlein stepped back to 54 yards and made it with relative ease. When he booted a 59-yarder that would’ve been good easily from 65 yards or so, he earned a shot at the 64-yarder. It just sailed a little to the left but the message was clear: the Rams have a new and dangerous weapon for their offense.

A kicker with the ability to have that type of distance and accuracy from such long range can completely alter the way an offense looks at a drive.

“We were in the two minute offense and normally we tell them ‘Look, you have got a minute and 10 seconds left, you’ve got one timeout and you need a field goal,’” Fisher said. “Ordinarily you try to get to the 32 or 35 yard line, these guys are saying all we need to do is get to midfield now. But yeah, he’s got a very, very strong leg.”

After splitting his college days between the University of Nebraska-Omaha and then transferring to Missouri Western after that program was shut down, Zuerlein regularly played in front of crowds of about 4-5,000 people on a weekly basis.

It wasn’t until he played in the Shrine game in Tampa’s Tropicana Field that he actually kicked in a stadium anywhere near the size of the Edward Jones Dome.
Zuerlein had never kicked in his new home until Saturday but seemed completely unfazed by his new, more intimidating surroundings.

“This is great,” Zuerlein said. “I love kicking indoors. It’s awesome. There’s so many sight pictures to pick behind the field goal post. That makes it easy. It’s such a big stadium that it doesn’t feel like there’s that many people in here. I could definitely hear them but the crowd doesn’t affect me as a kicker. The biggest crowd I kicked in front of was 22,000 down in Florida and it felt just like it did here. It was good to get out here and experience it.”

Considering that kickers generally don’t draw much attention from their veteran teammates, the rookie sixth-round pick certainly turned some heads Saturday, not only from the fans but from his teammates.

Zuerlein has been equally impressive in practice, as he hit from 60 yards and narrowly missed another 64-yarder earlier in the week.

Quarterback Sam Bradford and running back Steven Jackson made mention of Zuerlein’s prodigious boots.

“It’s been pretty impressive to watch,” Bradford said. “That last one was, what, 64? It got there. To have that in your back pocket and know that we don’t have to get down to the 31, 30 yard line to get our special teams, I think today that last one was from the 46. So it’s nice to not have to get it all the way down there to get yourself in position to get some points.”

Jackson echoed those sentiments.

“He has a huge leg,” Jackson said. “He makes it easy on the offense knowing that he has such long range that we can get within striking distance, especially in a two minute situation, we don’t necessarily have to get to the 35-yard line you do traditionally with most kickers.”

It should be noted that Lindholm, the young kicker out of Tarleton State also had an impressive showing. He converted his first four attempts, including the 54-yard kick before just missing on the 59-yard effort and coming up short from 64.

For his part, Zuerlein says his career long came in a practice at Missouri Western where he hit from 74 yards out but that was with what he called a “60 mile per hour” wind at his back.

Without the benefit of the wind, Zuerlein said his career long is probably closer to 66 or 67 yards.

After one week of practice and one impressive scrimmage performance, it’s readily apparent that the distance doesn’t make much difference to Zuerlein. His expectation for himself is that if he’s asked to make a kick, he ought to make it. 

“I go out there expecting to make every single kick,” Zuerlein said. “If I don’t make every single kick I am disappointed in myself because I feel like I have the ability to make all those kicks and the coaches wouldn’t put me in there if I didn’t think I could do that.”

PROPER PRECAUTIONS: The Rams had a lengthy list of players who either only participated in individual drills or didn’t participate at all in Saturday’s scrimmage.

Those that did not participate include center Scott Wells, tackle Ryan McKee, tackle Rodger Saffold, fullback Todd Anderson, tight end Lance Kendricks, running back Daryl Richardson, tight end Deangelo Peterson and defensive tackle Trevor Laws.

Safety Darian Stewart, cornerback Josh Gordy, cornerback Kendric Burney and receiver Danario Alexander did some work in individuals. Alexander even did some work in seven on seven drills.

Almost all of those injuries involve some sort of soft tissue tightness.

“It’s legs,” Fisher said. “We are just being smart. When you get indoors and the lights are on, you get people that have a tendency to play fast and we had some bumps and some bruises and we didn’t want to subject anybody to some serious pulls. We hope to have everybody back next week.”

Fisher’s style has clearly been established that he wants to be pro active about preventing minor injuries from becoming serious ones. 

“Yeah, as best you can,” Fisher said. “I talk with (head athletic trainer) Reggie (Scott) and his staff all the time about the status of the players and we encourage the players to give us feedback because that’s important. If you get a mild hamstring tightness and they say it’s going to take two or three days, we have always had the philosophy we’ll just wait an extra day.”

STANDING OUT: Wide receiver Brandon Gibson has made a habit of performing well in the preseason in his young career. He’s off to another strong start in this year’s training camp and turned some heads again in Saturday’s scrimmage.

Gibson made a number of impressive grabs throughout the day, none more so than a balletic 28-yard grab down the sideline in a late two minute drill to help set up a touchdown.

For those counting Gibson out of the receiver competition early, he’s made a strong statement in the first week. Bradford, for one, feels comfortable with Gibson on the other end of his throws.

“Yeah, I do,” Bradford said. “Obviously Gibby has been here since the beginning. This is our third year together. He’s someone I feel extremely comfortable with. Gibby has had a really good camp. I think he’s playing at an extremely high level right now. He’s running good routes, he’s getting open and today he made some tough catches. They were contested balls, he used his hands, he went and got it. So I have been really pleased with the way Gibby is playing right now.”