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  • Chatman keeps punt return job

    By Pete Dougherty

    Antonio Chatman has a big lead for the job as the Green Bay Packers’ punt returner, not only because the coaching staff has been lauding his play at receiver but because no other punt returners have emerged during training camp.

    The Packers were hoping that second-year pro Carl Ford, who landed on injured reserve in training camp last year with a knee injury, would prove to be a viable punt returner this year.

    But Ford never returned punts in high school or college, and has dropped at least one punt almost every day in the first two weeks of camp. Though he was still working with the punt returners Friday, those drops have all but eliminated him as a candidate for the job.

    Asked whether he could use Ford as a punt returner in a regular-season game, special teams coach John Bonamego said, “Not at this point, he’s still dropping too many balls.”

    Chatman, 25, probably will be the Packers’ No. 1 returner in the preseason opener against Seattle on Monday night, though Bonamego also wants to get a look at receiver Robert Ferguson in that role in a game.

    Chatman held the return job all last season because he had no drops, only one fumble and showed good range in catching bad punts that might have rolled if he hadn’t gotten to them.

    However, he averaged only 8.4 yards a return, which ranked 19th in the NFL, and his occasional indecisiveness left him dancing side to side rather than picking a seam and blasting toward it.

    Chatman signed with the Packers last year after playing in the Arena Football League.

    Coach Mike Sherman has said the 5-foot-9, 184-pounder looks quicker this year because he’s not worn down by having played in the winter and spring.

    Judging by the snaps he’s getting in practice, Chatman appears to be in the running with Ford and Scottie Vines for the No. 4 receiving job, but evidence that he’s more explosive this season probably will come when he returns punts in the preseason.

    “I told him in the offseason,” Sherman said, ‘I said. ‘Listen, you can’t make it as a specialist (only). You have to help us as a receiver if you want to be on the team. You have to be able to do both. I really need a guy that can do both.’ I’m not anointing him as the fourth receiver, but he’s certainly helped himself with the plays he’s made out here.”

    The Packers have used Ferguson as a punt returner in practice for the past three years even though he had no college experience. He’s returned punts in only one NFL game, at Jacksonville in 2001. He had two fair catches and one return for 4 yards.

    “He’s a little unorthodox, but he catches it,” Bonamego said of Ferguson. “He’ll catch it up over his head or off to the side, you don’t like to see that all the time, but he gets it done, he catches it.”

Related Topics


  • MauiRam
    Rams stress importance of special teams in game ..
    by MauiRam
    • By Joe Lyons

    Early in the second quarter of the Rams’ 27-19 loss to Cleveland in the preseason opener last week, Browns’ speedster Travis Benjamin fielded a punt on the right side, made a cut to his left and raced untouched down the sideline for a 91-yard touchdown.

    So what happened?

    “Obviously a huge bust in coverage ... get the edge that easy, there’s a problem,’’ special teams coordinator John Fassel said Wednesday following a crisp practice focusing on special teams at Rams Park in Earth City. “So that’s what we’ve been focused on fixing. Young guys gotta learn to get to their spots and leverage the football, and that’s what we didn’t do.’’

    The problem, oddly enough, started when Rams punter Johnny Hekker booted the ball too far.

    “We wanted to keep the ball in play so that we could practice covering punts,’’ Fassel pointed out. “Unfortunately, it was a real game and it bit us because I think he hit a 65-yard punt with about a four- or five-(second) hang (time), so, in reality, that’s not the punt that we’re looking for.’’

    In covering the return, Fassel said there were “two guys’’ on the right side who helped create the breakdown that resulted in a lesson learned the hard way.

    “Sure enough, we saw what can really happen if we don’t do the right thing,’’ the coach said. “But it was good to see on film –in a bad way – because it also lets me know what I need to focus on more in practice. We did some unique things today to work on covering punts.’’

    Fassel, in his second season with the Rams and his ninth overall, said it can be difficult to get players who were college stars to realize the impact special teams can have on their careers.

    “No matter how you impress upon them the importance of (special teams), I think it takes a while for them to understand that this is their path to establishing themselves in the NFL,’’ he said. “So that’s a huge part of my job, to convince them in an unbiased way – they think, ‘Oh, you’re the special teams coach; of course you want us to be good.’ – that this is a path for you if you really want to make it.

    “Some guys get it and some guys don’t.’’

    One Rams player who ‘gets it’ is fourth-year linebacker Josh Hull.

    “He’s a core guy on all big four, which is punt, punt return, kickoff and kickoff return,’’ Fassel said. “He’s a crucial part of teams and we can count on him. He’s reliable, he’s a tough guy and he’s a guy that knew his path to the NFL was on teams ... and he’s still getting better.’’

    Hull, a 6-foot-3, 245-pound inside linebacker, was drafted by the Rams in the seventh round in 2010 and has been a solid contributor, mainly on special teams. Following a rookie season cut short by a knee injury, he’s had eight special-teams tackles during each of the last two campaigns.

    “Special teams is very important...
    -08-15-2013, 09:15 AM
  • DJRamFan
    [Packers] Stemke joins Rams just in time for homecoming
    by DJRamFan
    Staff, wire service reports

    Kevin Stemke, who starred as a kicker at Green Bay Preble High School in the mid-1990s, will realize a lifelong dream of playing in a regular season game at Lambeau Field when he punts for the St. Louis Rams in their game against the Green Bay Packers on Monday night.

    The Rams on Friday released Sean Landeta and signed Stemke, 26, who was with the Packers during training camp as a rookie in 2001.

    “Monday night at Lambeau Field, a kid from Green Bay: that’s pretty much a dream come true there,” Stemke said.

    Stemke spent the 2002 offseason and part of that year’s training camp with the Rams, then played in two games with the Oakland Raiders later that year. He was in Washington’s training camp this year.

    The Packers passed on signing Stemke after he was released by the Redskins in late August. He was eighth in the NFL with a 44.7-yard gross average and ninth with a 38.8-yard net average on 16 punts.

    Green Bay was in need of a punter because rookie B.J. Sander averaged only 36.7 yards gross and 31.5 yards net during camp.

    The Packers instead signed 15-year veteran Bryan Barker, who is averaging 39.2 yards gross, 15th in the NFC, and 32.9 yards net.

    Reggie McKenzie, the Packers’ director of pro personnel, conceded at the time that Stemke had outperformed Sander and Barker in the preseason, but added: “Our guy’s going to be all right.”

    Stemke was in France with his wife Lizzy, a professional volleyball player, when the Rams called earlier this week. After a half-day trip to St. Louis and wearing borrowed shoes, he punted well enough on Thanksgiving Day through jet lag to impress the Rams.

    “The pressure is pretty much off now,” said Stemke, a left-footed punter who starred at the University of Wisconsin. “Either I’m going to make it or I’m not. I’m confident I can do the job and hopefully they’re confident enough in me.”

    Landeta, 42, was 10th in the NFL with a 43.3-yard gross average, but just 31st with a 32.5-yard net average this season.

    He felt he might have been the scapegoat for special teams that rank near the bottom of the NFL in punt and kickoff returns, and in kickoff and punt coverage.

    Landeta, a 20-year NFL veteran who was the Packers’ punter in 1998, hopes to catch on with another team.
    -11-28-2004, 05:38 PM
  • RamWraith
    Stemke given the boot by St. Louis
    by RamWraith
    Green Bay's Kevin Stemke left 'dumbfounded' by the Rams' decision to cut him this week

    By Todd McMahon
    Another NFL off-season. Unfortunately for Kevin Stemke, yet another period of downtime consumed by an uncertain future.

    Stemke, a Green Bay native and former standout at Preble High School and the University of Wisconsin, is back on the all-too-familiar market seeking employment as a professional punter.

    The St. Louis Rams cut Stemke this week, which came as a "huge shock" to the 26-year-old and those close to him, agent Chris Murray said Tuesday night.

    "We're as dumbfounded as anybody," Murray said.

    According to Murray, Stemke learned of his impending release Friday while on the golf course with former Wisconsin kicker Vitaly Pisetsky, who was married the next day. Stemke took a call on his cell phone from first-year special teams coach Bob Ligashesky, who informed Stemke that the team had decided to part ways with their incumbent left-footed punter.

    Stemke handled the chores the last month and a half of the 2004 season, after replacing deposed veteran Sean Landeta. Stemke averaged 39.8 yards in 28 punts during his most extensive in-season NFL stint in four years.

    The Rams apparently are content to ride the right leg of rookie Reggie Hodges into the summer and possibly into next season. Hodges, a Ball State product, was taken in the sixth round of the draft last month. For now, he's the only punter on the Rams roster.

    "We actually didn't think much of (the addition of Hodges) because Kevin has been punting (in the off-season) as well as he has his entire life," Murray said.

    Figuring the selection of Hodges was intended to stir up competition for the job the next few months, Stemke never saw the walking papers coming.

    "It just doesn't make a whole lot of sense," said Murray, who pressed Rams officials for an explanation last weekend.

    He gathered from those conversations that the decision to get rid of Stemke was rendered unilaterally by head coach Mike Martz, who is on his fourth special teams coach in six years.

    "Kevin had a good rapport with the new special teams coach. (The release) just doesn't make a whole lot of sense," Murray said. "It's the biggest hammer that's been thrown down with one of my clients."

    Murray said Stemke was in St. Louis on Tuesday meeting with Ligashesky. Attempts to reach Stemke, who cleared waivers Tuesday, were unsuccessful.

    "His (initial) reaction was, 'I'm done with the NFL,'" related Murray, "but that was off the cuff. He has no intention of giving up on playing in the NFL."

    To that end, Murray is optimistic Stemke will attract interest from other teams in the coming...
    -05-12-2005, 10:01 AM
  • RamWraith
    Rams show interest in return game
    by RamWraith
    By Jim Thomas
    Tuesday, Apr. 25 2006

    Most of the pre-draft talk on the Rams has concerned the need for more
    defensive help. Or a tight end. Or even the possibility of taking a quarterback
    in the first round.

    But all along, the Rams have done a lot of evaluation designed to improved
    their return game - or lack thereof.

    A lot of games have gone by since the heyday of Tony Horne on kickoff returns
    and Az-Zahir Hakim on punt returns. The Rams haven't finished among the top 10
    in the NFL in punt returns since 2002 and in kickoff returns since 1999.

    They haven't been anywhere close to that lately. Last season, they ranked 29th
    in punt returns and 23rd in kickoff returns; in 2004, they finished 31st in
    both categories.

    But it looks like the Rams are determined to change that. No fewer than seven
    of the 33 players brought into Rams Park for pre-draft visits earlier this
    month had some kind of kick return experience in college.

    Some also play defensive back, or wide receiver, or running back. Or in the
    case of Miami's Devin Hester, he plays a little bit of everything.

    Hester and UCLA's Maurice Drew are the highest-profile returners who visited
    Rams Park. Over his college career with the Hurricanes, Hester returned four
    punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns. He has ranked as high as sixth
    nationally in both kickoff returns (in 2003) and punt returns (in 2004).

    The secret to his success? "It's really not any secret," Hester said. "It's
    just natural instinct. I'm a visual-type player who can see things before they

    What NFL teams can't see is where to play Hester when he's not returning kicks.
    He has dabbled at cornerback, running back, and wide receiver, without truly
    excelling at any. But Hester's explosiveness as a return man alone should make
    him a second- or third-round pick in the draft.

    Throughout his college career, Drew was the "other" back in Los Angeles,
    playing second fiddle to Southern Cal's Reggie Bush. But Drew put up impressive
    numbers of his own, combining for more than 3,300 yards rushing and receiving.

    Drew's work as a return man was somewhat limited, but electric nonetheless.
    Over the course of his college career, he averaged 23.2 yards on 25 punt
    returns - four of which went for TDs. Meanwhile, he averaged 24.6 yards on 32
    kickoff returns, including two TDs.

    There are some concerns about Drew's height - he's only 5-6 1/2. The way he
    holds the football has some scouts concerned about the possibility of too many
    fumbles in the NFL.

    Even so, his ability to return kicks adds value...
    -04-26-2006, 05:03 AM
  • RamWraith
    Landeta defers to coach on critique of punting
    by RamWraith
    By Bill Coats
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    Thursday, Nov. 25 2004

    In his most recent attempt to explain the Rams' mounting special-teams woes,
    coach Mike Martz pointed a finger squarely at punter Sean Landeta.

    The day after Sunday's 37-17 loss in Buffalo, Martz said: "Sean didn't punt
    well at all. And he hasn't for some time now, so that's a major issue." Landeta
    averaged 39.8 yards on four punts against the Bills. His net average per boot,
    though, was 2.8 yards.

    Jonathan "Freddy" Smith returned a line-drive, 39-yard punt 53 yards to the
    Rams' 5-yard line, setting up Buffalo's go-ahead touchdown in the third
    quarter. Landeta's next punt traveled 54 yards but also had less-than-ideal
    hang time, and Nate Clements took it 86 yards to the end zone.

    "Those always come back at you, those rockets that go down the middle of the
    field," Martz said.

    Asked on Thursday whether he felt Martz's criticism was fair, Landeta said:
    "He's the head coach, and whatever he feels is what the deal is. If he feels I
    need to punt better, then I need to punt better." Asked, then, whether he felt
    he needed to punt better, Landeta said, "I just gave you my answer."

    When punters are struggling, they normally recheck their fundamentals and
    mechanics. "If you think you're not hitting them well, you do all that, yeah,"
    Landeta said.

    The amount of blame that should be shouldered by Landeta, a 20-year NFL
    veteran, is debatable, considering the Rams haven't covered punts or kickoffs
    effectively all season. They stand 31st in the 32-team league in kickoff return
    coverage (24.6 yards) and 30th in punt return coverage (15.5).

    Landeta, 42, started the season with a rush. He was named the NFC special-teams
    player of the week after averaging 50.2 yards on five punts vs. Tampa Bay. At
    that point, six games into the season, his 44.8-yard average ranked him fifth
    in the NFL. His net average was 37.0 yards.

    Since then, Landeta's punts haven't traveled as far, and the average length of
    the returns has increased. In the last four games, his average is 41.1 yards,
    but his net - skewed badly in Buffalo - is 25.6.

    Overall, his 43.3-yard average is tied for ninth in the league. But his net
    norm, 32.5, is second to last.

    Talking turkey

    Martz put his troops through a 90-minute workout Thursday, then headed to his
    upstairs office at Rams Park for added preparation work for Monday night's game
    in Green Bay. His Thanksgiving dinner would have to wait.

    But that didn't mean he wasn't thinking about it. "Turkey, gravy and potatoes.
    -11-26-2004, 04:25 AM