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Rookie punter strives to avoid getting the boot from the Rams
By Bill Coats
Of the Post-Dispatch
Sunday, Aug. 07 2005
Just days after the draft in April, Rams coach Mike Martz in effect handed
starting jobs to two rookies. His declaration that first-round pick Alex Barron
would be the first-team right tackle earned plenty of headlines.
More quietly, sixth-rounder Reggie Hodges was designated the No.1 punter with
the subsequent release of incumbent Kevin Stemke.
Barron, who remains unsigned and unseen at Rams Park, has tumbled out of
Martz's favor and far down the depth chart. "He's not going to play," Martz
said. "He was struggling when he was here (for minicamp), and now you're coming
in 15 weeks late or whatever ... to think that he's going to help us right away
Hodges has been at training camp from the start and is the only punter on the
roster. But after an erratic performance Saturday night at the team's workout
at Washington University, Hodges also received a spanking.
"That punter, we've got to do a better job than that ... way better than that,"
Martz said. But with more than a month remaining before the Sept. 11
regular-season opener in San Francisco, the Rams can afford to be patient.
"He's going to kick throughout camp and throughout the preseason (games), and
see if he can't groove in pretty good," Martz said. "He's such a talented
punter, (but) he's going to have to deal with the stress of having it on his
shoulders. If he can handle it, great. If he can't handle it, then it's going
to be an issue."
Plenty of experienced punters (remember Sean Landeta?) are looking for work.
And Hodges, 23, said he realizes that should he falter, the Rams won't hesitate
to look elsewhere.
"Oh, yeah, I'm a rookie. That's what they brought us here for, to see if we can
do it," he said. "And if not, they'll certainly find someone who can." Being
the lone punter on the roster "doesn't mean anything at all," he added. "That
just means I'm the only one here at camp right now."
Hodges, a 6-foot, 226-pound native of Champaign, Ill., brings impressive
credentials. He set several school records at Ball State and, after averaging
42.6 yards per boot and dropping 25 of his 65 punts inside the 20-yard line,
was an All-Mid-American Conference selection his senior year.
Landeta was released after 11 games last year. Stemke averaged 39.8 yards per
punt the rest of the way. Hodges spends most of his time during camp practices
working on individual skills with kicker Jeff Wilkins. But he's also had a good
dose of "live" action, too.
"We've tried to put Reggie through all the things that he's going to see in a
game - pressure situations, backed up, chart his kicks, tell him where he's got
to put it - and see how he responds to it," Martz said.
Rams get two days off
After Saturday night's workout, Martz gave the players two days off. Practice
will resume at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday at Rams Park. That is the only session this
week that will be open to the public.
The team is employing more of a game-week schedule as it prepares for its first
preseason game, vs. Lovie Smith's Chicago Bears on Friday at the Edward Jones
Back slows Williams
Offensive tackle Grant Williams stayed on the sideline Saturday night, resting
his back. Williams has suffered a reoccurrence of disc inflammation and is
expected to be out at least a week. Williams, who had been working at right
tackle with the first team, said an epidural injection was planned to speed his