Inexperienced Ficken will be kickin’ for the Rams
Sam Ficken was sitting at his desk in a Connecticut brokerage firm this week when his phone rang.
The day before that call he had passed a securities trader exam.
“I was kind of in the process of training and learning the skills to be successful in that regard,” Ficken said.
The Rams were not calling in search of a stock. They needed a kicker.
Greg Zuerlein, the NFL’s leading scorer, was headed to season-ending back surgery as the Rams prepared for Sunday’s potential division-clinching game against the Tennessee Titans in Nashville.
Ficken, a former Penn State kicker who had been to training camp with two NFL teams, was among 12 potential replacements on their list.
Ficken, 25, traveled to Thousand Oaks on Tuesday and on Wednesday he outperformed more experienced kickers during a tryout to earn the spot.
“We’re just looking to the guy who we think is going to be really confident and can hit a really straight ball,” special teams coordinator John Fassel said Thursday.
So the Rams will attempt to make a playoff push with a kicker who has never attempted a field goal in an NFL regular-season game.
“The kicker always has one job and one goal and that’s to make his kicks when given the opportunity, so it’s not something I haven’t done before,” he said after his first practice, adding, “I’ve kicked in preseason games. Everyone I think puts a [label] on the fact that I haven’t kicked in a regular-season game, but again, the day-to-day job stays the exact same.
“Put it through the uprights and take care of business.”
Ficken made 54 of 75 field-goal attempts at Penn State from 2011-14 and graduated with a degree in finance.
He attended a few NFL minicamps in 2015, went to training camp with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2016 and the Kansas City Chiefs this season.
He said he was still training as many as six days a week and had tried out with the Chargers two weeks ago.
The Rams decided to hold two workouts, about an hour apart, and split the competitors into groups of six. Each kicker got 12 attempts.
“It was more like a Gong Show than a workout,” Fassel joked, referencing an old television show.
Punter Johnny Hekker, who was announced as a Pro Bowl selection Tuesday night, was the holder for every kicker on Wednesday morning.
Veterans such as Robert Aguayo, Dan Carpenter and Garrett Hartley were among those trying out. But Ficken earned the opportunity, Fassel said.
“I just wanted, myself, to not go in with any bias based on anybody’s history, successes or failures and just said, ‘You know what? There’s 12 guys who are coming in, let’s just go clean slate for everyone and pick who we think had the best workout,’” Fassel said. “We just thought that he did the best job and we also thought every kicker needs their first chance at some point.”
Fassel said he was not concerned about Ficken’s lack of pro experience.
“Maybe part of the reason why you get a guy who has never kicked in an NFL game is he doesn’t have any bad mental scars, you know, yet,” Fassel said. “They’re all, at some point, going to get them.
“But he also kicked at Penn State in some significant positions and hit some really big kicks and he seemed like a kid that hasn’t been bothered by any misses.”
Rams receiver Robert Woods lamented the loss of Zuerlein — “pretty much a guaranteed kicker,” he said — but was confident that the offense could overcome it.
“We’ve just got to score touchdowns,” Woods said. “He was finishing up drives for us, so we just have to do more for our new kicker.”
Hekker and snapper Jake McQuaide expressed confidence in Ficken.
“Jake and I are going to do our best to make sure our operation is ready to go, the field goal team is going to protect so he can be comfortable back there,” Hekker said.
Said McQuaide: “We don’t need him to be Greg Zuerlein. We need him to be Sam Ficken.”
Ficken said he was certain he would be given an opportunity to kick in the NFL.
“I’ve believed in myself, I’ve believed in the work that I’ve put in and it was just a matter of time for me to be given a chance,” he said.
His brokerage employer wished him well, he said.
“They said they hoped they never saw me again, which is funny, obviously,” he said. “I think they’re super thrilled for me.
“I’ve talked to them and they’re more than excited for me about the opportunity.”
Cornerback Troy Hill (illness) and defensive lineman Matt Longacre (back) did not practice…. Safety Cody Davis, who had been on injured reserve because of a back injury, practiced Thursday and is eligible to return for the final regular-season game.
Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein
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