By Bill Coats
Sunday, Sep. 09 2007

Earlier in his NFL career, Jeff Wilkins would take a couple of months off after
the season and then start kicking in March.

"Then March turned into April and April turned into May," Wilkins said.

Wilkins' right leg has carried him through 13 seasons, including the past 10
with the Rams. He's the franchise leader in scoring and holds virtually all the
team's place-kicking records.

So, if giving his meal ticket more rest between seasons keeps him at the top of
his game, Wilkins, 35, is more than willing to do so.

"You've only got so many bullets in the chamber," he said. "I'm just trying to
use them for the right times."

For that reason, Wilkins has kicked sparingly in exhibition games. He appeared
in just one this year — Aug. 24 at Oakland — then settled back to await the
regular season.

That begins Sunday, when the Rams take on the Carolina Panthers at Edward Jones
Dome. Wilkins conceded he'll be anxious, as he is every year.

"You just never know," he said. "You always question yourself, and then after a
couple of kicks, you're like, 'Whew, still got it.'"

That provides relief for the Rams, too. Wilkins has been their leading scorer
for the past eight seasons. His 82.5 percent success on field goals ranks fifth
among active players, and he hasn't missed an extra point since 1998.

Coach Scott Linehan is particularly appreciative of Wilkins' ability to hit
from long distance. He's 32 for 42 from 50 yards and longer.

"There really is no limit to taking a shot at three points," Linehan said. "As
soon as you cross the 50, the consideration is there. He knocks it through when
you need it the most."

In fact, Wilkins has become even more accurate on deep kicks as he's grown
older. He has made 15 of his last 17 from 50 and beyond, including all three he
attempted last year.

"I just try to stay aggressive with it, and fortunately they've been going
through," he said.

Dane Looker, Wilkins' holder since 2003, said more than good fortune is

"It's kind of like in golf. When you see a guy really try to reach for one, a
lot of times he either hooks it or slices it," Looker said. "'Wilky' has so
much power he can really still swing smooth."

And, Wilkins emphasized, he's privileged to have a stable kicking "team." In
addition to Looker, Chris Massey has been the Rams' long snapper since 2002 and
is widely regarded as one of the best in the league.

"He snaps the same, Dane puts the ball down the same," Wilkins said. "That just
makes my job easier. I've just got to sit back there and say, 'OK, now worry
about myself and put a good stroke on the ball.' Because I know it's going to
be there and I know it's going to be on the spot."

Much like offensive linemen take pride when a running back piles up big
numbers, Looker and Massey revel in Wilkins' success.

"It's like a well-oiled machine, and that's what we like to think of ourselves
as," Massey said. "Jeff's been one of the best kickers in the league for
several years now, and I think that me and Dane are a big part of it. When he
does good, it's like a group win."

Massey has made just one bad snap in 560 career attempts. It happened last Dec.
11 vs. Chicago on an extra-point try.

"It was shocking," Looker said. "Jeff and I just stood there and stared for a
split-second, just because it was so uncharacteristic for Chris to do that."

Because he didn't have a chance to kick, Wilkins' string of successful extra
points was unaffected by that miscue. The streak stands at 346, just 25 short
of the NFL record of 371 set by Denver's Jason Elam (1993-2002).

Fearing a jinx, any mention of the streak is quickly snuffed.

"No, no, no, no, no. We can't talk about that," Looker said.

"I don't even know what you're talking about," Wilkins said.

He prefers to limit the discussion to Sunday's opener and his valuable, if
aging, leg.

"It's feeling good right now," Wilkins said. "That's the whole idea, to get it
fresh going into the first game and have things hitting on all cylinders."