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Rams punter Johnny Hekker pulls off a perfect inside job

Rams punter Johnny Hekker warms up before a game.
Rams punter Johnny Hekker warms up before a game against the Chicago Bears on Monday in Inglewood.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

In a tremendously important game for the Rams on Monday night, punter Johnny Hekker dropped the ball.

Dropped it on the 10-yard line, the seven, the six, the five and the one.

If there were such a thing as a perfect game for a punter, Hekker had it. In the 24-10 victory over Chicago, his SoFi ceiling-scratchers repeatedly pinned the Bears in the most uncomfortable of spots.

“When you’re able to be comfortable and be confident, and your coach tells you that you can put it wherever you want, it’s really up to us to go out and execute,” Hekker said in a phone interview. “What we were able to do tonight, giving our defense long fields like that to defend, it’s going to be really tough to score on them.”

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Like his tie-dyed, psychedelic ball cap, Hekker displayed a full spectrum of punts, showing both remarkable accuracy and — in the case of his 63-yarder downed at the six — the kind of resounding power that echoed through the empty building.

The Rams defense was on target against Nick Foles and the Chicago Bears in the team’s 24-10 win on Monday.

“It’s like golf,” he said. “Sometimes you feel like you’re barely swinging through it, and the ball just jumps off your foot. And then it comes down to bounces. I’ve had plenty of games where I’ve had great performances, but the balls take squirrelly bounces away from our guys… Tonight, I definitely had the luckiest bounces I’ve ever had.”

Hekker was a defensive door-slammer.

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“It’s a heck of a weapon,” tackle Andrew Whitworth said in a phone interview. “When he’s on, man, it’s almost like having an extra great rusher, or a great addition to your defense. Because defensively, he puts them in such a good position, puts an offense really so backed up and on their heels. For the offense, it’s hard to have a lot of great calls and be aggressive down there when you’re pinned deep.”

Hekker, signed as an undrafted free agent in 2012, is among the Rams’ longest-tenured players. Defensive lineman Michael Brockers arrived the same year, and only long snapper Jake McQuaide (2011) has been around longer.

Hekker has a good feel for where this team fits in the timeline of the Rams.

“We’re a connected team,” he said. “Going through a COVID offseason really challenges you, and playing in front of no fans is another thing that’s going to put your connection to the test. For the most part we show up, have great weeks of practice, and we’re really invested in each other as players and people.”

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Accordingly, he’s quick to point out his is not a virtuoso act. Punting takes a village, or as he says, “It’s all-11 production.”

First, he had the luxury to get creative with his punts, because almost all of them came near midfield. Only once did he have to bail out the Rams from deep in their territory. He can thank the offense for that.

That allowed Hekker to tinker with the orientation of the ball.

“There’s just different ways to drop the ball and different areas of the ball to hit to get different spins,” he said. “Normally, when I’m going to punt it, the ball’s pretty much straight ahead or the tip is at 11 o’clock on a flat plane. But then with other ones, you turn the nose completely sideways and hit the inside of the ball to get a little helicopter spin on it.”

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That helicopter helped airlift the Rams out of a sticky spot, with the team trying to regain its balance after a crushing loss at San Francisco the week before.

What’s more, the Rams had never beaten Chicago starter Nick Foles, their former quarterback, who twice led Philadelphia to road victories over them.

It was the type of game for Hekker that was suitable for framing — even though he was in such a zone, it was all a blur to him afterward.

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“All I remember was a clean pocket, great snaps, and gunner play that was out of this world,” he said. “It’s great to go out there, trust the guys around you, and just have fun.”

No need to spin that.


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