ST. LOUIS (FootballStL) -- You could say that Johnny Hekker prepares for the worst. If you need proof then take a look at the first play of the fourth quarter against the Bills on Sunday.
Hekker came on to punt with his team trailing 12-7 on fourth-and-six at the Bills 49-yard line. It was the perfect field position to pin the Bills deep in their own end. The problem came when the snap went through Hekker’s hands, but still the rookie punter was able to get the kick away with his back towards the line of scrimmage, albeit a total net of zero yards.
“I can’t lose sleep about it. I’m over it,” Hekker said. “We ended up getting the win.”
The Rams defense bailed out Hekker by forcing a three-and-out to the Bills on their next possession.
“They saved me right there,” Hekker said of the defense’s play after the fumble. “It’s a learning experience. I’ve got to keep my eyes on the ball at all times. I’ve learned from that and I’ve learned from many other miscues throughout the season and I’m very fortunate to how it happened. I’m just learning as this thing goes along and I’m hopefully getting better.”
What was most impressive about the play was that Hekker was still able to pick up the ball and get the kick away rather than get tackled immediately or miss the ball completely on the recovery. On Monday, Hekker tweeted, “The great thing, on the snap that got passed me, I have practiced that situation many times with coach McCabe and @OneOnOneKicking #prepared”.
On Wednesday, Hekker told me that he was prepared for that moment from the summer training he did at One on One Kicking in Alabama.
“One of the drills we do when I’m down there in the summer is actually the punter stands there, (the coach) throws the ball over your head, teaches you how to approach the ball so you can get it off as fast as possible and avoid something like that. So as soon as I saw the ball rolling on the ground I knew what to do,” Hekker explained.
One of the misconceptions about punters and kickers in the NFL is that they don’t practice much. It may seem that they only show up on Sundays and kick occasionally. But the easiest scapegoats in football prepare for a game a lot more than one would think. The proof is in the previous paragraphs.
So the next time you watch a football game just remember that kickers are football players too.