Regarded as one of the NFL’s premier special teamers in recent years, Rams punter Johnny Hekker isn’t taking anything for granted as he approaches his tenth season.
The four-time All-Pro spoke bluntly about the competition he’s facing during Rams OTAs and the implications surrounding the situation.
“When push comes to shove, they have to make the best decisions for this roster,” Hekker told reporters on Thursday, via Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times. “And there’s no running around the financial aspect of it. So, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to put together the best roster that you can.”
Hekker is currently the highest-paid punter in the NFL with a salary-cap number of $4.9 million, according to Over The Cap. Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2012, Hekker is also the longest-tenured player for the Rams and the 31-year-old is coming off a career-low 45.6 yards per punt in 2020.
“I definitely did not perform to the best of my abilities,” Hekker acknowledged. “There were a few games that I really, I don’t know, just kind of got just maybe ahead of myself mentally. … There were definitely some kicks out there that I would have liked to have seen go better for the team. … When I don’t put our team in good positions that’s the stuff that really bugs me.”
By their recent standards, L.A.’s special teams unit as a whole had a subpar 2020, which was the squad’s first year without coach John Fassel after nine seasons. The team hired Joe DeCamillas has the new special teams coordinator this offseason and is preparing for 2021 with competition at all phases of special teams, including the long snapper position.
Corey Bojorquez and Brandon Wright were signed to compete for Hekker’s job.
“Corey is wildly talented,” Hekker said. “And so I think for me, to for a second not think of this as a competition and not prepare myself every day like it is a competition would be doing myself and this team a disservice.
“So, I think them going out and signing Corey is a great move. Corey is a great punter. … A guy that has one of the strongest legs I’ve ever seen. … Him and Brandon are both guys that are sound technically and they’re going to help keep me on my Ps and Qs.”
Bojorquez, who spent the past three seasons in Buffalo, is coming off a career-high 50.8 yards per punt in 2020. The 24-year-old returns home to Southern California with an opportunity to earn a seemingly perfect situation.
“When people start hitting balls and the juices get flowing, that competitive side comes out,” said Rams kicker Matt Gay, who also faces competition from Chase McLaughlin. “Both of them, Johnny and Corey, have been hitting it really good. Super consistent. … They’re both great punters, and it’s been fun to watch both of them just kind of hit the ball and goin’ at it.”
While Hekker has had a firm grip on his position the past nine seasons, the Rams punter approaches 2021 with a positive outlook. With the Rams going all in with the acquisition of quarterback Matthew Stafford this offseason, Hekker is embracing a competition that may elevate him back into an All-Pro form as a crucial season approaches.
“The second that you take something for granted of something for certainty in this league is the day you get surprised,” Hekker said. “So I’m just enjoying every day and just doing my best to prepare and help this team however I can.”
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