Rams punter makes his case for Pro Bowl bid
By Bill Coats
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
By getting more out of doing less, Rams punter Donnie Jones is making a strong case for his first Pro Bowl trip.
Jones, a five-year veteran, leads the NFL in punting average: 49.7 yards for 63 attempts. His net average of 40.7 is No. 2 behind Oakland's Shane Lechler, the front-runner for the AFC roster spot in the league's Feb. 10 all-star game in Honolulu.
"To be voted by your peers and be selected for that would be an outstanding accomplishment," said Jones, 28. "But I try not to focus so much on exterior stuff. If you start worrying about all that, you forget about catching the ball and kicking it. I know if I play well ... everything else will fall into place."
As the Rams head toward the finish line of a second consecutive double-digit-loss season, Jones is the team's only strong Pro Bowl candidate. Still, he'd like to nominate long-snapper Chris Massey for consideration.
"It starts with him," Jones said. "He's so dedicated to his job. He works hard every day, and then he goes out and executes in the games. He's an unbelievable snapper. When you get the ball in the same spot every time, your timing is there, and I think punting has a lot to do with timing.
"By him snapping it the same every time, it makes my job that much easier."
The Rams' improved coverage unit also deserves a nod, according to Jones. "I could kick it 56 yards every time, but if you don't have anybody to cover, then you're in trouble," he noted. "One guy gets all the credit, but it's a group effort."
Yet coach Jim Haslett didn't mind tossing some praise toward the 6-foot-3, 222-pound Jones during preparations for Sunday's game at Arizona.
"He has a live leg, a really live leg. And he's a big guy, powerful," Haslett said. "He can control the ball well, and he can place it where he wants to. He can kick it deep, he can kick it high. He can do almost anything he wants."
Jones put together a breakout season last year, his first since joining the Rams as a free agent. He broke Danny Villanueva's 45-year-old record by averaging 47.2 yards a punt; his net of 39.3 was the team's best since 1970.
"I'd never averaged over 43 yards in my career — college (Louisiana State), high school (Catholic High in Baton Rouge, La.), professional (one year with Seattle, two with Miami)," Jones said. "That was kind of that number that, why can't I get over that? To have the kind of season I had last year was really an accomplishment for me."
But by setting the bar higher, he created a conundrum: "I was like, 'How am I going to be able to do better than I did last year?'" Jones said. Two factors have been key:
— Although he's had a couple of so-so outings, he's eliminated the really ugly performances that drive the numbers down dramatically.
— He learned somewhat by accident that if he cut back his work during the week, he had more juice in his leg on Sundays.
Jones bruised his right knee — his non-kicking leg — in the season opener at Philadelphia and "probably punted 10 balls" during practice the following week. Then he averaged 55.7 yards on six punts, including a season-high 63-yarder, on that Sunday against the New York Giants.
"I've just kind of kept that up all year, just limited my reps," Jones said. "It's worked really good."
Perhaps good enough to earn him an all-expenses paid trip to Hawaii.
"It'd definitely be an honor," Jones said. "If it happens, great. If it doesn't, I'll still know that I gave it my all and had a pretty solid year."
Adam Goldberg appeared to take all the snaps at right tackle with the starters Friday, although Haslett said Alex Barron was fine. ... Defensive lineman Victor Adeyanju (neck) returned to practice and is expected to play Sunday.
Re: Rams punter makes his case for Pro Bowl bid
Go Donnie!! at least someone will represent us in the pro bowl!!