Rams stress importance of special teams in game ..
• By Joe Lyons
Early in the second quarter of the Rams’ 27-19 loss to Cleveland in the preseason opener last week, Browns’ speedster Travis Benjamin fielded a punt on the right side, made a cut to his left and raced untouched down the sideline for a 91-yard touchdown.
So what happened?
“Obviously a huge bust in coverage ... get the edge that easy, there’s a problem,’’ special teams coordinator John Fassel said Wednesday following a crisp practice focusing on special teams at Rams Park in Earth City. “So that’s what we’ve been focused on fixing. Young guys gotta learn to get to their spots and leverage the football, and that’s what we didn’t do.’’
The problem, oddly enough, started when Rams punter Johnny Hekker booted the ball too far.
“We wanted to keep the ball in play so that we could practice covering punts,’’ Fassel pointed out. “Unfortunately, it was a real game and it bit us because I think he hit a 65-yard punt with about a four- or five-(second) hang (time), so, in reality, that’s not the punt that we’re looking for.’’
In covering the return, Fassel said there were “two guys’’ on the right side who helped create the breakdown that resulted in a lesson learned the hard way.
“Sure enough, we saw what can really happen if we don’t do the right thing,’’ the coach said. “But it was good to see on film –in a bad way – because it also lets me know what I need to focus on more in practice. We did some unique things today to work on covering punts.’’
Fassel, in his second season with the Rams and his ninth overall, said it can be difficult to get players who were college stars to realize the impact special teams can have on their careers.
“No matter how you impress upon them the importance of (special teams), I think it takes a while for them to understand that this is their path to establishing themselves in the NFL,’’ he said. “So that’s a huge part of my job, to convince them in an unbiased way – they think, ‘Oh, you’re the special teams coach; of course you want us to be good.’ – that this is a path for you if you really want to make it.
“Some guys get it and some guys don’t.’’
One Rams player who ‘gets it’ is fourth-year linebacker Josh Hull.
“He’s a core guy on all big four, which is punt, punt return, kickoff and kickoff return,’’ Fassel said. “He’s a crucial part of teams and we can count on him. He’s reliable, he’s a tough guy and he’s a guy that knew his path to the NFL was on teams ... and he’s still getting better.’’
Hull, a 6-foot-3, 245-pound inside linebacker, was drafted by the Rams in the seventh round in 2010 and has been a solid contributor, mainly on special teams. Following a rookie season cut short by a knee injury, he’s had eight special-teams tackles during each of the last two campaigns.
“Special teams is very important and we take a lot of pride in them,’’ he said. “Coach ‘Bones’ (Fassel) is the best in the business. He’s great on technique and guys really work for him.’’
Hull, a Penn State product, has played in 28 NFL games and made just one start – he had three solo tackles, including one for loss, against New England last year in London – but still prepares each day as if he’s competing for a spot on the first unit.
“If the opportunity presents itself, I need to be ready,’’ he said.
Hull senses a distinct difference in the Rams during this camp.
“We’re way more competitive and the camaraderie is better, too,’’ he said. “Everything is starting to come together. I think guys are really starting to get a feel for the defense.’’
Hull is confident in his role as a player and a leader with the Rams. But he makes sure to never be too comfortable.
“I think mentally it’s a little easier for veteran guys because you know what to expect,’’ he said. “Physically, I spend a month or so preparing so that I’m in shape and ready to go when I arrive.
“But no one’s job is guaranteed. Doesn’t matter if you’re a rookie or a vet, somebody’s always looking to take your job.’’
TO MAKE DEBUT
One of the pleasant surprises during the early days of training camp was receiver Andrew Helmick, a rookie free agent from nearby Lindenwood University.
Helmick, a Kansas City native, set school records for career receptions (153), receiving yards (2,828) and receiving touchdowns (32) in college and seemed to be making plenty of plays during the first couple of weeks of camp.
Then he suffered a hamstring injury.
“It was tough, not being able to practice – I missed the practice at the Dome and also missed the first preseason game – so I just had to stay as mentally strong as I could,’’ he said. “I had to be in the classroom, studying a lot of film and staying in my playbook. Now, when I am back out here, I don’t want to miss a beat.’’
Helmick, who was cleared to return to practice after last week’s loss to the Browns in Cleveland, remained as close to the action as possible during practices while injured.
“When you’re not able to play, the best way to learn is to watch other people run the plays you’re going to be running,’’ the 6-foot, 192-pounder said. “If they make a mistake, learn from it and if they do something right, learn from that as well.’’
Helmick expects 15 or 20 family members and friends in the stands Saturday at 7 p.m. when the Rams make their home debut against the Green Bay Packers at the Edward Jones Dome.
“I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t nervous,’’ he said. “But you get hit one time and the nerves are gone. It’s football from there.’’
Wednesday’s special teams workout lasted less than an hour, with the focus on punt coverage and punt returns.
Players catching punts during practice were Tavon Austin, Nick Johnson, Terrance Ganaway, Justin Veltung and Helmick.
The Rams will practice today from 3:30-5:30 p.m. at Rams Park in Earth City. The workout is free and open to the public.
Re: Rams stress importance of special teams in game ..
yep, some guys make their careers in special teams, besides the kickers and punters that is lol
and i'm eager to see helmick in action, hope he makes some big catches and plays