ORLANDO — Thursday and Friday were special days of sorts for the Rams in attendance at the 2018 Pro Bowl.
Assistant special teams coach Tyron Mckenzie stopped by Thursday’s practice — logging a significant amount of driving miles in going from the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. down to Orlando. And special teams coordinator John “Bones” Fassel was there for Friday’s session.
Both men had plenty of reason to see a Pro Bowl practice, since their special teams unit is well represented on the NFC’s squad. Punter Johnny Hekker, return specialist Pharoh Cooper, and long snapper Jake McQuaide are all here partaking in this year’s All-Star festivities. Kicker Greg Zuerlein would be on the field, too, had he not suffered a back injury late in the regular season.
“It just speaks to how good our coaching, and just the organization with just the value they put on special teams,” McQuaide said of the Rams’ many Pro Bowl special teamers. “They understand that special teams wins games and luckily we have the best in the business coaching us and giving us the tools we need.”
“It’s really, really fun to have a lot of Rams here and to see the other guys from the NFC. We’re having fun,” Hekker said. “It’s been great to spend some quality time with these guys. To see them on the field having fun with some of the best players in the game, that’s a cool experience. And also that we have so many guys on our team is also really cool.”
Though Hekker and McQuaide have been working with a new kicker this week — Carolina’s Graham Gano replaced the injured Zuerlein — McQuaide has relished the familiarity of snapping to Hekker for both kicks and punts.
“It feels like home,” McQuaide said. “It’s easy because you don’t have to change anything up and just getting Graham — who is the kicker we have with Greg being hurt — get everything the way Graham likes it. Get everything ready for Sunday and be ready to win the game."
But when it comes to being at an event like this, Hekker admitted that as a punter, there are times when he gets star struck.
“I sat next to Drew Brees and Jason Witten at a meeting. You just look around the room like ‘What am I doing here?’” Hekker joked.
Even though this is Hekker’s fourth time at the Pro Bowl, the experience has not gotten old.
“I think just the atmosphere,” Hekker replied when asked what keeps him coming back. “I think getting to spend quality time with players from other teams, build some relationships and have some familiarity, that’s really kind of helped. We have built some friendships through four games, just have people up.
"It’s super nice just getting to see everyone with their families," Hekker continued. "That’s what it’s all about.”