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St. Louis Rams Special Teams Improve
St. Louis Rams special teams improve
BY JIM THOMAS
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
There were a lot of reasons the Rams stumbled to a 1-15 record in their just-completed season. Just don't blame special teams.
In fact, you could make a case that under rookie special teams coordinator Tom McMahon, St. Louis enjoyed its best special teams play of the decade.
That's a somewhat muted distinction, given the shoddy play that has characterized the unit for much of the decade. Then again ...
— The Rams' league-wide rankings in net punting (second), punt coverage (fourth) and kickoff coverage (22nd) were the highest for the team in the decade. (That's right, a No. 22 ranking on kickoff coverage was a single-season best for the Rams from 2000 through 2009.)
— The Rams' ranking in kickoff returns (11th) was their second-highest ranking of the decade; gross punting (fourth) was third-best; and punt returns (eighth) was fourth-best.
McMahon was pleased but not overwhelmed by the progress the unit made this season.
"At the end of the day, what you're looking for is wins, and that's what we need to do," McMahon said. "We have to play better on special teams to get us those wins.
"So we need to improve, and that's what we're going to do this offseason. I think that the guys have that in mind. We're looking forward to that first game (of 2010) coming out and hitting it right away, and not having the mistakes that we had this year."
The Rams were plagued by special teams penalties and mistakes early in the season, including having 12 men on the field as Seattle attempted a field goal in the season opener. In Game 4, San Francisco scored a gift TD when a ***** punt bounced off Quincy Butler's leg and Butler failed to fall on the ball in the end zone.
There were other hiccups along the way, such as Courtney Roby's 97-yard kickoff return for a TD for New Orleans. And Danny Amendola's lost fumble on a punt return in the Dec. 27 game in Arizona.
But there were highlight moments as well, including kicker Josh Brown's TD pass to Daniel Fells on a fake field goal against Detroit. Against Tennessee, Kenneth Darby ran 51 yards on a fake punt, setting up the Rams' only touchdown.
There were some highlight players as well over the course of the season.
Reserve linebacker Chris Chamberlain was the star of the coverage units, with 28 special teams stops. That's the second-highest total since the Rams moved to St. Louis in 1995, surpassed only by linebacker London Fletcher, who had 30 special teams stops as a rookie in 1998.
Amendola proved to be a find as a return man after joining the Rams in Week 3. In 14 games, he set Rams franchise marks for kickoff returns (66), kickoff return yards (1,618), combined punt and kickoff returns (97), and total return yards (1,978).
Granted, with opponents scoring often, Amendola got plenty of chances on kickoff returns, which helped his overall numbers. But there was quality to go along with that quantity. His kickoff return average of 24.5 yards was the fourth-highest by any Rams player (with 20 or more returns) in the 15 seasons of the "St. Louis" Rams.
"I've liked what I've seen from Danny," McMahon said. "I like Danny's toughness. He's accountable and he's reliable. And that's what those other 10 guys want back there, is somebody they believe in. They know he's going to catch the ball, he's going to give every single thing he can to get that extra yard. They're going to work for him because he works for them."
Another impressive season by punter Donnie Jones helped the Rams do a better job with field position. Jones altered his approach, at McMahon's request, placing more emphasis on directional punting. But he still finished fourth in the league in overall punting average (46.8) and second in net punting (41.7).
(Net punting subtracts return yardage and yardage lost on touchbacks from the overall total.)
Jones also dropped 34 punts inside the 20, which was the fourth-best total in the NFL this season and a Rams franchise record. Nonetheless, those numbers weren't good enough to get Jones in the Pro Bowl. He was a third alternate, with Andy Lee of San Francisco earning the NFC berth.
In Jones' three seasons in St. Louis, the Rams have never ranked below fourth in either overall punting or net punting in any season. But Pro Bowl recognition continues to elude him.
"I can't control the voting for the Pro Bowl," Jones said. "All I can control is what I do on the field. I think the years I've had here have been really good. If I never get selected, nobody can take away what I've done."
Re: St. Louis Rams Special Teams Improve
Jones would be a perennial Pro Bowler if he played for a media darling like New England, Dallas or New York.
Amendola has been nothing but productive, and most likely will be for years to come. Just an amazing pickup.
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