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  • Stemke given the boot by St. Louis

    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 weeks. Even though no player accepts being cut well, Murray said it should work to Stemke's advantage that he's on the free-agent market ahead of the post-June 1 cuts.

    Murray has yet to have any contact with the Packers, whose punting situation is unsettled. Murray, however, indicated it's unlikely a homecoming would mark the next stop on Stemke's nomadic journey through the NFL.

    Since trying to break into the 32-team league as an undrafted rookie with the Packers in 2001, Stemke has been with five teams. He was with the Rams on two occasions.

    Stemke, the inaugural Ray Guy Award winner as college football's best punter with Wisconsin in 2000, lost out to Josh Bidwell in the punting battle during the Packers' 2001 training camp.

    A year later, Stemke, after being cut by the Rams in the preseason, hooked on with Oakland. He appeared in two regular-season games in place of an injured Shane Lechler, averaging 42.4 yards in five attempts.

    Stemke then was with Miami during the 2003 preseason and with Washington in the preseason last year. The Redskins cut Stemke, even though he was ranked among the league's top 10 punters for the exhibition slate, because they had veteran Tom Tupa.

    In turn, the Packers declined to take another look at Stemke, despite rookie B.J. Sander's finishing the preseason rated last in the league for both gross average and net average.

    The Packers had invested a third-round draft pick in Sander, the 2003 Ray Guy Award winner at Ohio State. They kept him on the 53-man roster the entire season as the non-active second punter behind veteran Bryan Barker.

    With Barker not re-signed in the off-season, the Packers are targeting Sander to assume the duties next season. However, Sander, who's kicking in NFL Europe this spring, will have competition in training camp from first-year player Brooks Barnard and undrafted rookie Bryce Benekos, if not a veteran free agent.

    "Knowing the level of patience they've had with B.J. Sander, I think they fully intend to give him every shot to win the job," Murray said.

    Meanwhile, Stemke, a three-time all-state selection in high school, will have to again exercise patience as he awaits his next shot to punt somewhere in a league that hasn't always been kind to him

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  • 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, 06:38 PM
  • RamWraith
    Stemke's Dream Comes True
    by RamWraith
    By Nick Wagoner
    Staff Writer

    Most young football players dream about getting a chance to play in the NFL. An opportunity to put on any NFL uniform is good enough to make any kid drool. But, what if you had the chance to play in your hometown on Monday Night Football after a few years of bouncing around?

    Put more simply, what if you were new Rams punter Kevin Stemke? He lived out his childhood dream of playing in the NFL after signing with St. Louis on Friday. Stemke replaced one of the league’s most well known punters in Sean Landeta, who was released Friday.

    He traveled with the Rams to his hometown of Green Bay, Wis., to play in front of his friends and family against the team he grew up rooting for, on the field (Lambeau Field) he fantasized about playing on and all of it happened on Monday Night Football.

    Stemke’s debut was a solid one. He had just two punts, but dropped both inside the 20, with a long of 39 yards.

    “That’s just about my dream come true,” Stemke said. “This is about as good as the opportunities get. I’ve just got to go out and perform and convince them they made the right decision.”

    Perhaps the most amazing part of all of it is the distance Stemke had to travel for the opportunity.

    The Rams contacted him early lat week, asking him to come in for a tryout. It was getting him to St. Louis that was the hard part. Stemke has been living in Mulhouse, France with his wife Elizabeth, who is a professional volleyball player there.

    When the Rams called, Stemke was living with his wife and working out in case he got an opportunity with an NFL team. Stemke played in two games with Oakland in 2002, averaging 42.4 yards per punt. That came after a training camp stint with the hometown Packers in 2001 and time with the Rams in 2002 after an impressive career at the University of Wisconsin.

    There he earned the first Ray Guy Award as the NCAA’s best punter. He spent this preseason with Washington. He punted against the Rams in their preseason game on Aug. 27. He had one punt in that game, a booming 58-yard kick that landed inside the Rams 20. That wasn’t enough, though, and Stemke was cut.

    He was then left with a decision to make.

    “I stuck around for a while and had a few workouts, but I didn’t get a call for a couple of weeks,” Stemke said. “I said, ‘I’m going to join my wife in France and live off her for awhile.”

    Stemke arrived in St. Louis on Thursday after struggling to find a flight out of the tiny city in northwest France. When he finally located one, he hopped on the plane, had a layover in London and was in the Gateway City in time for Turkey Day.

    Rams coach Mike Martz said the team has had its eye on Stemke for awhile, from the time Stemke spent with St. Louis and his performance against the Rams in the preseason.

    -12-02-2004, 06:30 AM
  • RamWraith
    Rams cut rookie punter after bad game Sunday
    by RamWraith
    By Bill Coats

    On Monday, the Rams released rookie punter Reggie Hodges. His replacement is expected to be 41-year-old Bryan Barker, briefly in camp with the Rams this season.

    Out with the new, in with the old(er).

    On Monday, the Rams released rookie punter Reggie Hodges, 23. His replacement is expected to be 41-year-old Bryan Barker, a veteran of 16 NFL seasons. Barker was with the Rams briefly in training camp, but he was released Aug. 30 after punting just two times in preseason games.

    Hodges, a sixth-round draft choice from Ball State, was inconsistent from the beginning, which was why Barker was signed the first time. After winning the job, Hodges started poorly, averaging just 33 yards on four punts in the season opener at San Francisco.

    He rebounded with an impressive seven-punt, 42.9-yard performance the next week at Arizona, but he slumped again in the following three games. Hodges averaged only 33.2 yards on five punts in Sunday's 37-31 loss to Seattle. The Seahawks started three drives in Rams territory, and one at the 50-yard line, after Hodges punts. They scored 20 points on those possessions.

    "I just didn't hit the ball well, plain and simple," said Hodges, who was booed lustily by Rams fans. After five games, Hodges' gross (38.0 yards) and net (31.0) averages were the lowest in the NFL among first-team punters.

    Barker, 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, has been with Kansas City, Philadelphia, Jacksonville, Washington and Green Bay. He averaged 40.1 yards (33.4 net) last season with the Packers. His career average for 1,082 punts in 42.1 yards (35.6 net).

    When he was in Rams camp, Barker said: "I feel good, I feel healthy, I still enjoy it, I had a lot of fun last year, and apparently people still call me. As long as they call, I'll keep doing it."
    -10-11-2005, 05:53 AM
  • RamWraith
    Ram's former punter is back just for kicks
    by RamWraith
    By Kathleen Nelson

    Sean Landeta has been gone only a year, but he has too much catching up to do.

    The Rams' former punter said he hoped to see some of his non-football friends when he returns to St. Louis with the Philadelphia Eagles for their game with the Rams on Sunday.

    "These guys I've known since '95," said Landeta who lived in St. Louis for a pair of two-year stints with the Rams. "They made my stay so great. They really made you feel welcome."

    He mentioned Gus Torregrossa of Gus' Fashion and Shoes and restaurateurs Charlie Gitto, Charlie Fazio of the Joe Fazio Bakery, Mark Cusumano of Kemoll's and Tony Catarinicchi from Gian-Tony's. Even for a bon vivant like Landeta, that's a lot of food and shopping in 24 hours, especially when he has to squeeze in a football game.

    "He might know just about everybody in every city, as long as he's been playing," Rams punter Bryan Barker said. A 16-year veteran, Barker delivered the line with a grin, a backhanded complement to Landeta's longevity.

    Landeta, 43, is in his 21st season in the NFL and is one of only nine players who have spent at least 20 seasons in the NFL. He ranks second on the all-time list with 1,379 punts, trailing Jeff Feagles of the New York Giants, who has punted 1,425 times. Landeta also is second in career punting average: 43.3 yards. He was a member of both the All-1980s and All-1990s teams and made Pro Football Digest's All-Time All-Pro team.

    Landeta had little time to bid adieu to friends because of his abrupt departure from St. Louis last year. He entered his last game with the Rams on Nov. 21, 2004, ranked second in the NFL in net punting average. After the Bills returned punts 53 and 86 yards, Landeta was the fall guy. He was released five days later.

    "I was so disappointed that I wouldn't be there," he said. "Everybody there, the coaches, players and the organization were so great to me."

    Landeta was replaced by Kevin Stemke, who lost the job in camp to rookie Reggie Hodges. The youngster lasted five games before being replaced by Barker. Landeta spent two weeks in the Eagles' camp before being released but continued to train on a high school field near his home in Manhasset, N.Y.

    The injury bug that plagued the Eagles at key positions also hit punter Dirk Johnson. The Eagles signed Hodges, who lasted three games before being replaced by Nick Murphy on Nov. 22. Landeta was signed the following week.

    "I brought a lot of young guys in and tried them out," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "I figure Sean might not kick it the furthest, like he used to, but I at least know it's going to be the same depth every time."

    Considering the short leash on which most punters are kept, longevity...
    -12-17-2005, 07:26 AM
  • DJRamFan
    Chatman keeps punt return job
    by DJRamFan
    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.”
    -08-17-2004, 11:13 AM