Countdown to Camp: Elite special teams unit returns for 2019

It’s that time of year again.

The Rams are getting set to begin training camp at UC Irvine, officially starting mandatory preparations for the 2019 NFL season. As summer winds down, we’ll be taking a position-by-position look at Los Angeles’ roster with our annual Countdown to Camp series.

For Monday, July 8, let’s begin with coordinator John Fassel’s elite group.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Newcomers: none

After ending the 2017 season on injured reserve and enduring a groin injury early in 2018, kicker Greg Zuerlein returned to be the top-flight kicker he’s become over the last couple seasons. Zuerlein famously sent the Rams to Super Bowl LIII with his 57-yard field goal in overtime to beat the Saints in New Orleans — the longest converted overtime playoff field goal in NFL history. Over the last two years, Zuerlein’s made 91.5 percent of his field goals (65-of-71) and scored 274 points.

Johnny Hekker punted a career low 43 times last season, which means perhaps he should be tabbed as a holder who happens to punt. Nevertheless, Hekker finished second in net punting average at 43.0 yards per punt — just .2 yards behind the league’s leader, Thomas Morstead of New Orleans. Hekker also had just two punts land in the end zone for touchbacks, and 21 of them were downed inside the 20. For those keeping track at home, that’s 49 percent of his punts, which is a terrific number.

At long snapper, Jake McQuaide returns for his ninth season with the Rams — making him the longest-tenured player on the club’s roster. He’s currently signed through the 2020 season after inking a three-year deal last March.

While those three positions are set, there could be some intrigue at both kick and punt returner during training camp. JoJo Natson took over the punt returns duties early in the 2018 season when Pharoh Cooper was place on injured reserve, and then became the kick returner late in the season as well. But rookie running back Darrell Henderson has some some kick returning experience from his time at Memphis, including one kick returned for a touchdown during his freshman year in 2016.

Starters almost certainly won’t be playing in most of the preseason, but returner will definitely be an intriguing spot to watch during the games.

Tomorrow, Countdown to Camp will continue with a look at the Rams’ offensive line.

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