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Wilkins Gets His Kicks
Monday, November 28, 2005
By Nick Wagoner
If ever something were to go wrong for Rams kicker Jeff Wilkins, he’d be the first to know what it was and quickly point it out.
“If something goes wrong, that’s usually when I can tell something right then and there,” Wilkins said. “If everything goes according to plan, I can’t remember when I get to the sideline.”
By that logic, Wilkins would have no recollection of what happened Sunday in Houston. That’s a shame considering the tour de force of how to kick in every possible circumstance that Wilkins displayed in the second half against the Texans.
Wilkins did it all in the Rams’ stunning 33-27 comeback victory. In an ugly first half, he was the only offense for the Rams, booting a 37-yard field goal. But it was what happened in the fourth quarter that showed just how well-rounded Wilkins is.
In the span of about 40 seconds, Wilkins kicked an extra point, hit a perfect onside kick that the Rams recovered, booted a game-tying 47-yard field goal, knocked a squib kick that essentially eliminated a shot at a return and nailed a kickoff out of the back of the end zone to begin the overtime.
“Wilky is the best kicker I have ever been around,” interim coach Joe Vitt said. “You talk about a gamer now. Hits the 47-yarder, it’s like he’s hitting an eight iron ‘Boom, gone.’ He goes back to get the onside kick, perfection. They had no chance, they really don’t. Then comes back against the best kickoff return guy in the league and knocks it out of the back of the end zone. He’s the consummate professional. The tougher the situation, the more he enjoys it. His teammates have great respect for him. He’s the best. He really is. He’s the best.”
Perhaps none of those kicks were as impressive as the onside kick. Under the most difficult of circumstances with the whole world knowing it was coming, Wilkins got on top of the ball and made it hit the ground once before popping into the air at just the right angle. The ball landed firmly in the hands of Marcus Coleman as he leaped in the air.
Unfortunately for Coleman, that’s exactly what Wilkins wanted. Linebackers Trev Faulk and Drew Wahlroos leveled Coleman and receiver Torry Holt recovered to give the Rams a shot at the tie.
“You have to hit the top of the ball so it hits first then it rolls and it spirals, get some height on it,” Vitt said. “It’s not easy to do. It’s an art.”
With 23 seconds to go and the ball at Houston’s 48, all the Rams needed to do was get about 15 or so yards to get Wilkins into comfortable range for the tying field goal. After Holt’s 19-yard grab put the ball at the Texans’ 29 with nine seconds to go, the Rams had a decision to make.
They could have put the ball back in play with a timeout remaining and tried to squeeze a few extra yards for Wilkins or they could send Wilkins on the field. Whatever the choice, Wilkins didn’t care.
“I’m off in my own little world so I don’t know what happened,” Wilkins said. “Basically I am warming up.”
But there was no decision to be made for Vitt and Co. Wilkins promptly came on the field and calmly booted the ball through the uprights to send it to overtime. As always, Wilkins deflected the praise, instead giving thanks to snapper Chris Massey and holder Dane Looker.
“I say it over and over,” Wilkins said. “It’s such a blessing when you have a snapper and a holder that you don’t have to worry about. All I have to worry about is getting my dang foot on the ball in the right spot and it makes my life a lot easier to have those two helping me out. When you have a great kick, you don’t remember it. I really don’t remember it.”
Maybe the game ball Wilkins was awarded for his effort will help jog his foggy memory.
MCCOLLUM EXTENDED: On an always changing, always progressing offensive line that has suffered myriad injuries, center Andy McCollum has been the one mainstay of the group.
Maybe it’s the doughnut fuel or maybe it’s just plain luck, but McCollum has been the one constant on the line in the past few seasons. Because of that reliability and consistency, the Rams signed McCollum to a two-year contract extension.
McCollum’s value to the Rams often goes overlooked, but not by Vitt.
“I think the center of the football team is the heart and soul of the football team,” Vitt said. “He’s going to handle the ball every time just like the quarterback. He’s going to set all the protections, he’s going to set the line stance, he’s going to make sure they have the right combination of blocks, he’s got to be durable to the fact that he can block the four man front or like yesterday block the nose who sat up on him all day. Andy just doesn’t miss any games. He very rarely misses a mental assignment. He’s here every day working to get better. He’s a good football player.”
St. Louis has Larry Turner and Richie Incognito for the future behind McCollum. But McCollum has showed no signs of slowing, playing in every game on every play in the middle for the Rams this season.
JOHNSON STRUGGLES: Cornerback Chris Johnson made his first start in the NFL against the Texans on Sunday. Needless to say, it didn’t go as he hoped.
Houston went right at Johnson from the start, as receiver Andre Johnson abused Chris Johnson to the tune of 159 yards on 12 catches with a touchdown.
“He was better in the second half than he was in the first half,” Vitt said. “Was it good enough? We’ll see. He made some big mistakes in the first half, he was offside on the kickoff we recover a fumble. The kid went out in the second half and competed. He’s going to have to set his jaw now, come back and practice. He’s going to have to grow up quick and he’s going to have to get better quick because they are not postponing any games.”
BARRON EXCELS: With left tackle Orlando Pace battling a hamstring injury, rookie Alex Barron was asked to slide to the left side to take his place. Barron might not have played at Pace’s level, but he wasn’t far off. On a day when the offensive line struggled mightily, Barron was a bright spot.
“He really did well,” Vitt said. “He’s a better run blocker than I think I ever gave him credit for looking at some college film of him last year. He’s nasty, he’s got athleticism, he’s got length, he wants to play, he takes practice very very seriously. He has got a chance to really be special.”
IN THE MIDDLE: Trev Faulk earned the start over Chris Claiborne at middle linebacker last week based on better practice performances and a lack of production from Claiborne. Faulk had six tackles in unofficial pressbox statistics and helped force the ball loose on Wilkins’ onside kick.
It remains to be seen whether Faulk did enough to earn another start, but Vitt said it will be determined by this week’s practices.
“We got more production out of that position yesterday,” Vitt said. “We haven’t shut the door on Chris. Chris is going to get more work next week. At this point, we are going to do whatever we can to put our best 11 players on both sides of the ball out there. We will judge that on how they do in practice. If you perform well in practice, then you will get the chance to play. If not, it’s the next guy’s turn.”
INJURY UPDATES: Pace had an MRI on his hamstring and hip Monday afternoon, the results of which came back negative.
Quarterback Jamie Martin visited an ophthalmologist to have his vision checked and he came back with a good review also.
Cornerback Travis Fisher, who is battling a groin injury, is expected to work out Tuesday and will again be day to day.
As for the concussion crew of cornerback DeJuan Groce, guard Blaine Saipaia and strong safety Adam Archuleta, it appears the news is mixed.
“Groce should be OK,” Vitt said. “Saipaia should be OK. They both had similar testing done today. We’ll see about Arch. He went to see a specialist in LA on Friday. We’re kind of in a holding pattern with all three guys. We are hoping all three guys will be OK but we have got to wait and see.”