Hodges Has Big Day
Monday, September 19, 2005

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

Any time the name Reggie Hodges was brought up around coach Mike Martz in the past couple of months the word inconsistent was about the only consistent thing about the rookie punter.

But Hodges was anything but Sunday against Arizona. Hodges was so consistent – consistently good that is – that he earned the team’s Special Teams Player of the Week award for his performance.

“He was very consistent,” Martz said. “The thing we have always asked of Reggie is that consistency that allows us good field position. He hung the ball up nice, he turned the ball over, difficult balls to return. He was outstanding in this game and that’s what we hoped we’d get when we drafted him.”

It isn’t too often that teams will use a draft choice on a punter, but when the Rams came to this year’s draft armed with 11 choices and the need for a new one, special teams coach Bob Ligashesky was given the go ahead to grab the one he felt would best fit in.

Hodges was that guy. The young punter out of Ball State put on a show for Ligashesky in his workout, even displaying the type of toughness that many rookies lack by choosing to punt outside in the cold when he could have shied away and stayed in the indoor practice facility.

Hodges got another vote of confidence early when the Rams arrived to camp with him as the lone punter on the roster. His struggles in the preseason caused St. Louis to bring in insurance in the form of Bryan Barker. Eventually, Hodges won out and claimed the job for himself.

His debut against San Francisco made some wonder whether he was the best choice, especially when the *****’ Otis Amey returned one of his kicks 75 yards for a touchdown. Hodges’ inability to consistently angle the ball with distance was enough of a problem to cause some concerns.

But Hodges rebounded well against San Francisco, kicking seven times for a net average of 42.9 yards. More important was the way Hodges was able to angle the ball and make it hang in the air for an extended period. That allowed for the coverage units to get down the field and prevented any further long returns.

So, what was the biggest difference from week one to week two? Martz said Hodges was dropping the ball inside before stepping into his kicks. When Ligashesky noticed to flaw in Hodges’ form, he promptly altered it and the results were evident Sunday.

“He was really good,” Martz said. “This is kind of who we thought we had drafted. This is Bob's selection. He said this is the guy I want.”

The Hodges that every one saw Sunday is definitely the guy the Rams want. If that Hodges continues to show up every week, the punting problem might finally have reached a solution.

BARRON CLOSER: First-round draft choice Alex Barron has been inactive for the first pair of games, but Martz said Monday he is impressed with the way Barron has come along in the past few weeks.

“He’s done a terrific job in camp,” Martz said. “As a matter of fact, he’s way way ahead of where I would ever give him credit for. The toughness and his tenacity, knowledge of what we are doing has come along. The game is so much faster.”

While Barron remains on the left side for now, it is a possibility he could shift to the left side in the near future. With Rex Tucker injured and Blaine Saipaia starting at right tackle, Matt Willig is the backup tackle. Willig replace Orlando Pace for one play at the end of the Arizona game and promptly gave up a sack.

Ideally, Barron would progress well enough to make the transition to the right side, where his future with the Rams lies, but Martz says as long as Barron doesn’t have to play right away; it could be a good sign for the team.

“That means that we are playing good so no, heck no,” Martz said. “I’ll be real happy if he doesn’t play. That means that he can continue to grow and mature at that position and that means that we are playing well at the tackle position."

ON SECOND THOUGHT: It isn’t unusual for a team with a lead to attempt to salt the game away at the end by using a healthy dose of running plays. But running the ball hasn’t always been the Rams’ M.O.

Sure, St. Louis often had a big lead and turned it over to Marshall Faulk a number of times during the Greatest Show on Turf days, but Martz said he wishes he wasn’t quite so conservative against the Cardinals on Sunday.

“Our defense was playing so well that we were more conservative, probably more conservative than we should have been,” Martz said. “We had a tackle that was hurting pretty good and I was real concerned about the pressure and doing something wrong and turning the ball over. I did get real conservative at the end of the game and I kind of regret it. We had those corners out there one-on-one and I think it was a situation where we could have been effective with some simple plays out there. Steven was anxious to have that role. He was going so good; we just had a couple of broken assignments inside where I think we would have had some real good runs if we block those. That’s the most regrettable thing about this game.”

HONOR ROLL: Joining Hodges on the Rams’ weekly list of players of the game are Jackson and defensive tackle Ryan Pickett.

Jackson finished Sunday’s game with 93 yards on 18 carries and scored what turned out to be the winning touchdown in the third quarter.

Pickett had four tackles, five assists, two sacks, a forced fumble and a quarterback pressure in the official tape-reviewed team statistics.