Draft preview: Rams need a punter ..
BY JIM THOMAS
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
The Rams haven't drafted a punter since 2005, and have drafted only two punters since moving to St. Louis in 1995. But that could change in about 2½ weeks.
With the departure of Donnie Jones to the Houston Texans via free agency, the job is wide open. Former Southern Cal punter Tom Malone is on the Rams' offeason roster, but at age 28 his only professional punts have come in NFL Europe and the United Football League. There is next to nothing available in free agency, with the possible exception of Jason Baker, 33, who was released earlier this offseason by Carolina.
So that pretty much leaves the draft, and the answer to the question: Who will follow Ball State's Reggie Hodges (2005) and Georgia Tech's Rodney Williams (1999) as the only punters drafted by the "St. Louis" Rams?
The Rams, under new special teams coordinator John Fassel, are sifting through their options. Last month, they worked out Brian Stahovich of San Diego State. The Rams also visited California-Berkeley's Bryan Anger in California, and have shown some interest in Florida State's Shawn Powell among others.
Anger looks like the best of the bunch. His 43.5-yard career averaged is second best in school history. His 45.6-yard average as a junior in 2010 set a school record. Combining a strong leg with touch, Anger had 72 punts of 50 yards-plus during his college career. He also has been working with Jacksonville Jaguars (and former Cal) punter Nick Harris the past couple of years to improve his technique.
Some observers feel Anger has the leg and the makeup to punt right away as an NFL rookie. From a Rams standpoint, the problem is that Anger could go as high as the fourth or fifth rounds. The Rams don't have a fifth-round pick because of the trade with Denver for Brandon Lloyd, and have too many other needs to expend a pick at the top of the fourth round on a punter.
So they may have to look to later in the draft, or even rookie free agency, to fill the job opening.
Stahovich (pronounced Stuh-HOV-itch) could be around in the seventh round, or even post-draft. His best season with the Aztecs was 2010, when he averaged 45.4 yards per punt and booted a school-record 89-yarder.
There aren't many punting jobs available year-in, year-out in the NFL, but Stahovich is confident he can get one.
"I'm a big fan of competing and competition," he said at the NFL scouting combine, where he was among only six punters invited. "I'm here to prove that I can be the best one day. That's my goal. I won't stop working."
Last season in college, Stahovich worked on his directional punting and improving his net average.
"I made it my goal because I wanted the NFL to see I'm not just a guy line-driving balls downfield," he said. "I wanted to show I am putting cover-able kicks up there - right, left, middle, wherever. Doing Australian rules kicks. I am the total package."
At 6-4, 248 pounds, Florida State's Powell is one of the biggest punters on the planet. His 47.0 gross average last season was the best in the nation; his 41.3 net was second best in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
But there are other options as well, including Drew Butler of Georgia and Kyle Martens of Rice. After leading the nation with a 48.1 average in 2009 _ the first Bulldog to do so since 1958 — Butler averaged 44.5 and 44.2 yards respectively in 2010 and '11.
Martens' best season was 2010, when he set a school record with a 46.0-yard average. He's his school's career record-holder with a 43.0 gross average.
At the end of the day, the question may be is coach Jeff Fisher willing to go into his first Rams season with a rookie punter? Particularly since he and general manager Les Snead have made a conscious effort to "green" the roster by getting younger at several positions.