Rams punter Riley Dixon has some big shoes to fill, and he’s ready for the challenge
He’s not just replacing the punter.
Hekker served as a team captain and union representative, and he was among the team’s most active participants in community engagement.
“I’ve got nothing but the most respect and admiration for Johnny, just as a person on the field, off the field, one of the best guys you could draw up — and I think that’s why he’s so beloved here and everywhere else,” Dixon said last week as the Rams began preparations for their opener against the Buffalo Bills on Thursday night at SoFi Stadium. “But, you know, I don’t really compare myself to anybody.
“I’m not trying to fill his shoes. I’m not trying to be like Johnny. The best thing for me is being the best version of myself, putting my best food forward every day and just try to put my team and myself in the best position to win football games.”
Dixon, 29, is a six-year veteran. He began his career in 2016 with the Denver Broncos — where Rams special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis was on the staff. Dixon played the last four seasons with the New York Giants.
Last season, he averaged 39.5 net yards per punt. He placed 24 of 74 punts inside the 20-yard line. He was released after the season in a move that reportedly cleared $2.8 million in salary-cap space.
“There’s lot of things I could have done better,” he said. “I just try to learn from what I’ve done in the past and be better the next time.”
Dixon got his opportunity because of a similar cost-cutting move by the Rams. Hekker’s contract — he was due to carry a $3.2-million salary-cap number — and a career-low 44.2-yard punting average led the Rams to release him at the start of the new league business year. He subsequently signed with the Carolina Panthers.
Dixon, the holder for field goals, has melded “seamlessly” with kicker Matt Gay and long snapper Matthew Orzech, Gay said.
“He’s really easy going… he fits right in,” Gay said, adding, “He’s an amazing holder…. And he’s one hell of a punter.”
It remains to be seen whether Dixon can be a comparable passer.
During his career, Hekker completed 14 of 23 passes for 186 yards and a touchdown, with an interception. Dixon has completed one of three passes.
Gay is coming off a season in which he made 32 of 34 field-goal attempts and was voted to the Pro Bowl for the first time.
“I knew all along that I had that potential,” Gay said. “It was fun to just go out there and put it on display and show that I can.
“Now it’s my standard.”
Last season, Rams special-team units struggled early in the season but improved and played a key role in the Super Bowl run.
“It was a learning experience for me but I’m just glad that they finally started playing together and we were a positive going into the second part of the season and then the playoffs,” DeCamillis said. “So, I thought it was a real good testament to dealing with adversity and they came out on the other end and worked their tails off so it was good to see them do that.”
Last November, the Rams signed Brandon Powell to the practice squad. After rookie Tutu Atwell suffered a season-ending shoulder injury, Powell was eventually elevated to the roster and emerged as the top punt returner. Powell’s 61-yard touchdown return against the Minnesota Vikings sparked a late-season victory at Minnesota.
Atwell continues to practice as a kick returner, but Powell appears entrenched.
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