Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein appears ready for 49ers game; Nick Williams added to roster as receiver insurance

Los Angeles Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein as Oakland Raiders defensive back Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
Greg Zuerlein (4), kicking against Oakland on Sept. 10, is expected to rejoin the Rams on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers after sitting out five games because of a groin injury.
(John Hefti / Associated Press)

The player known by teammates as “Mr. Automatic” is set to return for the Rams.

Kicker Greg Zuerlein, sidelined for five games because of a groin injury, is on track to play Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.

That became clear Tuesday when the Rams waived Cairo Santos, who kicked what proved to be game-winning field goals in each of the last two games.

Santos said upon his arrival two weeks ago that he considered a stint with the Rams, however long it lasted, an opportunity to help the team and to show other teams that he was physically sound after struggling through a groin injury last season with the Kansas City Chiefs and during training camp with the New York Jets.


In his first game with the Rams, he missed a key extra-point attempt but came back to kick a field goal that provided the final margin in a 33-31 victory over the Seattle Seahawks. On Sunday at Denver, he made two field goal-attempts before missing one. But he rebounded to make another that proved to be the difference in a 23-20 victory that improved the Rams to 6-0.

“Thank you to the @RamsNFL for the opportunity to fill in for the last 2 games!” Santos tweeted. “Very special and fun to work with some of the best in the game. Glad to get back to game ready and help you stay unbeaten! Also really happy to see Greg the Leg healthy. On to the next chapter!”

Santos, and Sam Ficken before him, always were regarded as temporary solutions during the absence of Zuerlein, the NFL’s leading scorer in 2017.

Zuerlein, coming off December back surgery, kicked four field goals in the season-opening victory over the Oakland Raiders, including one from 55 yards. But he suffered a groin strain during warmups for a Week 2 game against the Arizona Cardinals.


Punter Johnny Hekker filled in during the 34-0 victory, and the Rams signed Ficken the next week.

Ficken had performed well in Zuerlein’s place late last season, and the Rams kept him on the roster through the 2018 preseason as an insurance policy in case Zuerlein suffered a setback in his recovery. They released Ficken when rosters were trimmed from 90 players to 53.

He rejoined the team before the Week 3 game against the Chargers, missing a field-goal attempt and shanking a kickoff out of bounds. He kicked a field goal against the Minnesota Vikings, but missed an attempt that would have increased the lead at a crucial juncture.

The Rams then turned to Santos, whose release Tuesday opened a roster spot for receiver Nick Williams.

With Cooper Kupp sidelined because of a knee sprain suffered against the Broncos, coach Sean McVay indicated Monday that the Rams were in the market for a receiver and said it would probably be “somebody we have a history with.”

Williams has experience with McVay and others in McVay’s coaching tree. He has 28 catches, two for touchdowns, in parts of four-plus NFL seasons.

In 2013, Williams caught three passes in five games for Washington. McVay was the Redskins’ tight ends coach that season. Williams caught 25 passes in three seasons with Atlanta, where former Redskins assistants Kyle Shanahan and Matt LaFleur were offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, respectively, in 2015 and 2016.

Williams played two games this season for the Tennessee Titans, where LaFleur is offensive coordinator.



The Rams cut defensive back Linden Stephens from the practice squad and added linebacker Travin Howard, a seventh-round draft pick who was released at the end of the preseason. … The Rams were off Tuesday. They return Wednesday to begin preparations for their third consecutive road game. They will not practice, but will hold a walk-through.

Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein