Rams have created kicking competitions; might DeSean Jackson return punts?

Matt Gay kicks a field goal against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as punter  Johnny Hekker holds during a November game.  (
Kicker Matt Gay and punter Johhny Hekker, shown holding on a field-goal attempt, are the likely starters next season, but the Rams have created some camp competition.
(Mark LoMoglio / Associated Press
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As the Rams prepare for the NFL draft, The Times will examine their roster. Part 5 of 8: Specialists.

In their first four seasons after returning to Los Angeles from St. Louis, the Rams enjoyed consistent production from specialists that had been together for years under special teams coordinator John Fassel.

But after the 2019 season, Fassel joined the Dallas Cowboys’ staff, and kicker Greg Zuerlein followed. In March, the Cowboys signed longtime Rams long-snapper Jake McQuaide.


Punter Johnny Hekker, a four-time Pro Bowl selection, is the remaining link to the past.

New special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis has replaced John Bonamego, now a senior coaching assistant. DeCamillis has worked for seven other NFL teams and has been a coordinator since 2009, most recently with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Rams are without some key defensive line contributors from last season and don’t have much depth beyond the starters, so the team will be mining the draft for help.

April 22, 2021

Hekker, who carries a $4.9-million salary-cap number, last season averaged a career-low 45.6 yards per punt. The Rams signed punter Brandon Wright to the practice squad, and Tuesday signed former Buffalo Bills punter Corey Bojorquez.

Matt Gay solved the Rams’ 2020 kicking woes after signing in mid-November and making 14 of 16 field-goal attempts in the final seven games. Kicker Austin MacGinnis is on the practice squad.

Colin Holba and Steve Wirtel will compete to replace McQuaide.

Receiver Nsimba Webster returned punts and kickoffs in 2020. After signing a one-year contract, veteran receiver DeSean Jackson hinted he also might return kicks. Raymond Calais returned kicks in four gameas last season.

“We’ve got to get a guy that can ring the bell and drop the ball over the goal line,” DeCamillis said.


The Rams lost some key pieces at safety and cornerback because of free agency, but they’ve been preparing for this through the draft.

April 19, 2021

Under contract for 2021: Hekker ($4.9 million), Gay ($850,000), Holba ($920,000), Webster ($850,000), Calais ($780,000), MacGinnis ($660,00), Wright ($660,000), Wirtel ($660,000), Bojorquez (TBD).

Free agents: McQuaide, the Rams’ long-snapper for 10 seasons, signed a one-year contract with the Cowboys that could be worth as much as $1.2 million. The Rams signed Bojorquez this week after he was released by the Bills.

Draft: Last year, the Rams drafted kicker Samuel Sloman in the seventh round, and then released him after seven games. The Rams could be looking for receivers and running backs who also can serve as return specialists.

Roster decisions: Hekker has been one of the league’s top punters, but after a down year by his standards he could use a bounce-back performance to justify his salary. Gay and Webster are in the final year of their contracts.

NEXT: Linebackers

Quarterbacks are expected to be the first three picks of the NFL draft for the first time since 1999 with Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence taken No. 1 overall.

April 19, 2021