Jones Getting His Kicks
Friday, December 11, 2009
By Nick Wagoner
As punt after punt dropped delicately inside the Chicago 20 – and many times inside the 5 – Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo couldn’t help but realize the type of effect punter Donnie Jones was having on field position and in turn, his defense.
“I am going to be honest with you,” Spagnuolo said. “I don’t know that I have always concentrated on the punter’s season, but I will tell you this: Everyday I grow more and more in appreciation for having that particular kind of punter. The way Donnie changes the fields, it just helps you defensively. It helps the whole team. I think he has done a terrific job all year long and hopefully he will continue to do that.”
In what has been another Pro Bowl caliber season, Jones is again putting up impressive numbers. And no game was more notable than the one he posted against the Bears last week.
In that contest, Jones punted seven times. Of those seven attempts, Jones dropped six inside the 20, four of which were downed inside the 10 (7, 2, 2, 3). That effort earned Jones Peter King’s Special Teams Player of the Week award in his popular “Monday Morning Quarterback” column on cnnsi.com.
“I think a lot of times, like in this game, I would rather have that game than a game where I average 65 yards,” Jones said. “Field position is huge; especially when you can pin a team down there and make them drive 90 something yards every time. It makes it hard on their offense and really gets our defense fired up. Our guys were excited last game. That’s what it’s all about. I like to do my part for the good of the team to put it in position to be successful.”
Although 2008 was statistically his best season and one of the two or three best punting efforts of all time, Jones knew that with a change in the coaching staff, he’d have to make some changes to his game as well.
New special teams coach Tom McMahon has asked Jones to focus more on directional punting, something Jones had done in the past but not something he had perfected.
Following a year in which he averaged 50 yards per punt with a net of more than 40 yards per attempt, being asked to fix something that isn’t broken can be a difficult adjustment.
But Jones has not complained and embraced his new directives.
“It was definitely hard,” Jones said. “The last couple of years I found something for me that really worked. Tom and I kind of went back and forth on the situation and I kind of only wanted to punt once a week and he wanted twice. I’m not going to cause a stir about anything. So I do Wednesdays and Thursdays this year. The punting game is very mental too so when you have got something that works, you want to say I have done well the last couple of years, I’d like to keep it like this. But there really hasn’t been that much change, though.”
The only real change other than the added emphasis on directional kicking and pinning opponents inside the 20 is to Jones’ practice schedule.
Jones used to kick during the season just once a week, on Wednesdays. Now he is kicking on Wednesday and Thursday, in part to work on his directional kicking.
“Anytime you have a new staff, things are going to change,” Jones said. “I remember the first conversation I had with Tom McMahon and basically just really him explaining his philosophy and how he wants to do things. The directional punting with him was big. We want to punt to our gunners. In the past, every team I have been on has kind of stressed directional punting. I guess a lot of times I either didn’t get it or felt uncomfortable doing it. Even this year, I haven’t been able to always punt directionally. It was a big thing he stressed and touch inside the 20. But basically that’s it. I’m just really trying to buy in.”
Like all punters Jones has had a couple of off games but for the most part he has again been extremely consistent in his production. While his gross average has dropped to a still excellent 46.4 yards, he has upped his net to 41.4 yards per try.
In addition, Jones had dropped 24 punts inside the 20.
“I think a lot of times you think ‘Well, he averaged 50 yards last year’ so people will hold you to a higher standard,” Jones said. “My big thing this year was eliminating touchbacks when we’re going in and just being smart on the plus 50’s. I think it’s been a good year. I think the three years I’ve had here have been really good. I’ve really enjoyed it. The group of guys I play with on this team are great. They play their butts off every week. They take a lot of pride in what they do and that allows us to have a lot of success on special teams.”
JACKSON’S STATUS QUO: Rams running back Steven Jackson has not practice in the past three weeks, missing a total of nine workouts including Friday’s.
Still, Jackson has found a way each week to answer the bell and play on Sundays. Once again, that will be his plan this week against Tennessee where a duel of the league’s top two rushers awaits.
“I may have to (do this every week),” Jackson said. “I don’t want to rule out and say that I don’t need to practice. Of course I would like to get the reps. What’s important is that I’m able to at least get to the point of being able to play. If we had a Thursday night game, I wouldn’t be able to go. I’m just being honest with you because of the pounding that I take on Sunday. I need the entire week to get ready to do it again.”
Jackson says he would prefer to get some practice but he and Spagnuolo agree that the best course of action is not to force anything.
“We are going to be smart with it and I trust Steven and where he is at with his health,” Spagnuolo said. “He knows enough about his body and has been in this league long enough. We trust him.”
KING ME: Cornerback Justin King has found himself with a larger role each week as he continues to grow more comfortable with his place in the league.
King has spent much of the season working as the team’s nickel corner, matching up with the opponent’s slot receiver. Last week, King began to work in a rotation with Quincy Butler on the outside, playing a good portion of the snaps in Chicago.
This week in practice, King has again been taking most of the snaps with the first team defense though Spagnuolo says he and Butler will continue to rotate at that spot.
Spagnuolo said King is starting to come into his own after he missed all of last season because of a toe injury. King had surgery and spent the rest of the year in a boot.
Now, King is starting to develop as the Rams had envisioned when they drafted him in the fourth round of the 2008 NFL Draft.
“He is,” Spagnuolo said. “Justin has. Remember for Justin, it really is a rookie year. He missed all of last year and I think he has really developed. I think he has done a nice job going in at that nickel spot. He just gets better and better at that spot and he is doing good things at corner.”
REPPING NULL: Rams starting quarterback Kyle Boller has been battling a thigh injury all week after he took numerous shots in the Bears game.
Boller has been practicing but has been limited for most of the week and that has kept his repetitions to a minimum.
In his place, rookie Keith Null has been taking repetitions with the first team. Since Boller became the starter after the leg injury to starter Marc Bulger, Null has been in a backup role but hasn’t had many chances to get reps with the first team.
Although Spagnuolo maintains that Null won’t go into a game unless something happens to Boller, he did say that it’s good for Null to get some work with the first team.
“Certainly from a practice stand point,” Spagnuolo said. “He gets in there, they hear his voice, and he gets under center with the starting group. All of that is going to be a foundation or an investment for him, no question.”
INJURY REPORT: As expected, Bulger and tackle Jason Smith are out this week. Bulger is scheduled for an MRI today to see progress on his broken leg.
As previously mentioned, Boller was limited Friday but is improving and expected to start against the Titans.
James Laurinaitis (shoulder), Darell Scott (neck), Donnie Avery (shoulder), Brandon Gibson (ankle) and Mike Karney (neck) were all limited. All are expected to be fine and ready to go.