THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – The final week of the 2021 preseason marked a difficult time for Rams punter Johnny Hekker.
Already dealing with what he viewed as competition at his position and uncertainty with the direction the Rams would go with it, being placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list the morning of its Week 2 preseason game against the Raiders would eventually force him to watch the Rams preseason finale against the Broncos a week later from home while his competitor – Corey Bojorquez, who was activated off the list three days after he and Hekker were placed on it – handled every snap in Denver.
Hekker said Thursday that he had "some conflicted feelings" while watching the game. On the one hand, he was happy for Bojorquez's success; on the other, "I saw, you know, a little bit of writing on the wall that could be the team might go with this guy, and I could be having to find a new home here pretty soon."
Those worries went away Tuesday after the Rams traded Bjorquez to the Packers on Tuesday, keeping Hekker as their punter.
During that time of uncertainty, Hekker said he leaned on his wife, a close friend and a feel-good streaming series to ease his mind.
"I talked to my wife for a good amount, she was there kind of watching the game with me," Hekker said. "I may have turned it off a little early, not going to lie. Watched some Ted Lasso to get my emotions back in check, it's a feel-good show. But then I called a mentor that actually married my wife and I – Chris Herb, a really good friend of mine from Corvallis (Oregon). And we were just able to kind of talk about things, pray with each other and come to a better head space, which meant a lot."
A four-time Associated Press First Team All-Pro and four-time Pro Bowl selection, Hekker's solidified situation also maintains his status as the longest-tenured Ram on the roster.
He has played in all 144 possible regular season games through nine seasons since signing with the team as an undrafted free agent out of Oregon State in 2012. He was also voted a team captain for the eighth time in his career on Wednesday.
Entering his 10th season this fall, Hekker will be working with a somewhat new-look special teams unit, with new leadership in special teams coordinator in Joe DeCamillis and assistant special teams coach Dwayne Stukes and working with a new long snapper in Matthew Orzech.
"(DeCamillis and Stukes) are guys that are really going to raise the level and expectations of special teams play this season," Hekker said.
Echoing Bojorquez's comments after the Broncos game, Hekker said he enjoyed working with him and having the opportunity to compete against him. Hekker also said he was praying that he and Bojorquez would have good preseasons, and that they would position themselves to be able to help the Rams and help themselves moving forward.
Ultimately, things worked out that way.
"It's something that I'm definitely very thankful for," Hekker said. "Looking back, I'm humbled for the opportunity to come back, to feel appreciated and wanted back here. It means a lot. Especially with a talented guy like Corey, being able to get him traded to a place where he's going to have a great impact in Green Bay, I wish him nothing but the best. But to be able to come back and be in this locker room with all the guys I've cultivated those friendships with, relationships, it means so much and it's something that I'm not going to take for granted. Every time I come out here on the practice field, I'm just coming out with a renewed sense of purpose to be a good leader, be a good punter and just have a ton of fun doing it."
Likewise, the Rams are glad to have him back.
"I think what Johnny's done here, as I've mentioned long before I got here, is something that doesn't go lost on me, doesn't go lost on us," Rams head coach Sean McVay said after Tuesday's practice. "And I am confident that he's going to be the productive player that he's been throughout the course of his career. I know he's motivated in the right way. And we're excited about him leading the way for us."
Take a look at the best photos from the Los Angeles Rams Thursday practice at Cal Lutheran.