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Practice Report 8/3: Special Teams Day

Posted Aug 3, 2015

For the fourth day of training camp, the Rams held a special teams only practice.

The Rams dedicated day four of training camp to special teams and after practice, coordinator John Fassel addressed questions about more than just football.

During the period between the OTAs and the start of camp, Fassel, known around Rams Park as “Bones,” vacationed with his family in Southern California. As was reported a couple weeks ago, Fassel played an instrumental role in the saving of a man’s life off the shore of Manhattan Beach.

While boogie boarding he noticed a man caught in a riptide, struggling and gasping for air about 30 yards to his right. He and a fellow surfer swam to assist the man, putting him on top of a surfboard and swimming to safety.

“We had to hold him on the surfboard because he had no power,” Fassel said. “He couldn’t even hold onto it on his own and all three of us were dangling out in the water for a little bit. We kicked ourselves out of the riptide and started to head back to shore and by then the lifeguards came out. It was quite the open-water experience.”

Fassel said when they made it to shore, paramedics took over and worked on the man for about an hour before taking him away in an ambulance. He added that the man did not speak English so there was no way to communicate during the rescue.

After Monday’s practice, a few of the players spoke of Fassel’s bravery and the type of person he is.

“I wasn’t surprised at all,” linebacker Daren Bates said. “I saw it actually on my ESPN app, and when it popped up, I just started laughing and said, ‘That’s something Bones would do. I’m not surprised.’ If he would’ve done it by himself, I still wouldn’t have been surprised.”

“The guy just has a genuine, genuine heart for people,” punter Johnny Hekker said. “And, of course, he was out there enjoying the water like he always does, staying active, staying fit. And he saw someone who needed help and just jumped into immediate action. That’s the kind of guy he is. He’s not the kind of guy who waits around and waits for someone else to take the reins. He’s going to be proactive and go find a solution immediately.”

While an ocean rescue might seem out of the ordinary, open water swimming isn’t unusual for Fassel, who competes in triathlons during the off season.

“Every spring and summer I’ll compete in three or four and I think the open water swimming in a triathlon helped me out a little bit,” Fassel said.

SPECIAL TEAMS PRACTICE

As it relates to football, the players participating in Monday morning’s practice were in full pads for the first time and running drills simulating various special teams scenarios.

“That’s what today was about,” Fassel said. “We wanted to see who can run, scrap and get off the ground when they get knocked down. We didn’t do any scheme work so it was just all running around and trying to keep everybody on two feet by the end of the day, which I think we did.”

As is common on any team, there is a certain amount of crossover of starters and full-time special teams players comprising the unit, which is something that Fassel enjoys piecing together.

“I love that challenge of trying to get the guys who may seem disinterested or are our starters and kind of find a role for them because we need some starters to spot play,” Fassel said. “You have your core, but you don’t have 11 core guys, so you need some guys to step in.”

The Rams’ special teams unit ranks highly in the NFL and Fassel hopes to see the trend continue with the core group he’s put together over the last couple years with players like Bates and Chase Reynolds.

“There’s something’s about them where they each have their own unique traits,” Fassel said. “Whether it’s that they’re really fast, tough, or maybe a combination of both, they show the ability to block and tackle and are able to do both well.”

LEFTOVERS

…Fassel spoke about Benny Cunningham, who led the NFC in kick return average last year.

“He’s got really good vision and great feet,” Fassel said. “He is a really strong looking and stout guy where you think he might be a little bit stiff, but he’s not. He’s got great feet and he is a tackle breaker.”

“If the return is designed to go here, but there’s a pocket of air over there, he’ll hit it,” Fassel added. “He has great ball skills and I was very proud of Benny last year he did a great job.”

…Finally, entering his fourth season with the Rams, Fassel believes the best days with regards to special teams are still to come.

“There’s a lot of tricks of the trade in special teams that I think are unique to the game that we see on tape that the fans don’t see,” Fassel said. “So we practice those little things and the more reps and experience we have doing it the better we get. To me, we are only really going into our third year as a group. We play against teams that have more experience than that, so hopefully in years three, four, five, and six we’ll really take off.”