If there was one remaining question about kicker
Throughout the preseason, Zuerlein had earned high praise from teammates and coaches alike for a booming leg capable of producing points from long distance. He’d done it in practice, he’d done it in scrimmages and he’d done it preseason games.
But, coming from tiny Missouri Western, Zuerlein had never kicked before an opposing sell out crowd with the game on the line.
Of course, you’d never have guessed that if you’d watched him deliver time and again against the Lions.
“You expect him to make those kicks,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “He missed the one (kickoff), but fortunately we got a touchback out of it after their unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when we kicked off from midfield. He just missed that kick. We were trying to just get it over that extra short defender so it could turn into a foot race and we could get good field position. But he’s making the kicks.”
Ever the perfectionist, the Rams’ sixth-round draft choice this year lamented miss-hitting that aforementioned kickoff despite the fact that he was perfect on all three of his field goal attempts, knocked through both extra points and blasted four of his six kickoff attempts for touchbacks.
“I would have liked to have all touchbacks,” Zuerlein said. “I squibbed one, they brought one out which we got them tackled before the 20 so I was happy with that. But on the kick from the 50-yard line, I could have put it a little bit deeper and made a play for our team and potentially got the ball back but it just didn’t happen.”
Still, even if Zuerlein wasn’t quite perfect in his debut, he made a strong first impression. He knocked in field goals from 48 and 29 yards without so much as breaking a sweat in his first two attempts.
Then, with the heat turned up and a potential game-winning field goal at hand, Zuerlein was asked to knock it through the uprights from 46 yards out.
“Really you don’t think about that,” Zuerlein said. “You just treat it the same as any other kick, go out there, do your routine and none of the crowd or none of that other stuff should really matter. You just focus on what you need to do.”
Focus is apparently something Zuerlein has no trouble doing as he calmly booted the 46-yard kick to give the Rams a 23-20 lead with 1:55 to go.
Although that kick didn’t turn out to be the game winner, the first opportunity to kick in a regular season NFL game was a resounding success for Zuerlein, who seems to have earned the complete trust of Fisher and the coaching staff moving forward.
“It was pretty exciting on the whole,” Zuerlein said. “It’s a little different than the preseason. It actually means something but on the whole I thought it went pretty well, as good as I could have really hoped for, I guess. I could have improved a little bit on the kickoffs but that gives me something to work on.”
SAFFOLD BACK: While Fisher remains unsurprised by the progress of left tackle
Saffold was a limited participant in Wednesday’s practice but he stepped back into his usual spot on Thursday and took on a full work load.
“He was full practice today,” Fisher said. “I’m not surprised at all based on the information we had immediately and the information we got in the evening and how quickly he’s come around.”
While Fisher won’t tip his hand on whether Saffold will take his usual starting spot on Sunday, it seems as though things are trending in that direction.
HUNTER READY WHEN NEEDED: Should Saffold indeed make the start,
It’s a role that Hunter is quite familiar with.
“I spent the first bunch of years of my career being a backup tackle so it’s nothing new,” Hunter said. “I know what it takes to back up those guys and that’s what the job calls for.”
Hunter entered the league as a swing tackle with Seattle. There, he was the backup on both sides but with Walter Jones holding down the left side, most of his work came on the right side.
After moving on to the Jets, Hunter was again the primary backup at both tackles spots and again never got the chance to work on the left side because starter D’Brickashaw Ferguson never got injured, either.
In other words, it’s been a while since Hunter has played left tackle.
“Yeah, (I’ll be) good to go,” Hunter said. “I just have to work on my left handed sets. I haven’t been on the left side for a while. I have been pretty much a right tackle my whole career.”
Hunter stepped in and did a fine job in replacing Saffold against the Lions last week, holding down the left side on the team’s final scoring drive that resulted in a potential game-winning field goal.
With a prior knowledge of coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s offense, Hunter doesn’t have much work to do to get up to speed in that area. Instead, he can focus his attention on re-learning the fundamentals of working on the left side just in case Saffold has any further neck complications; a process he said gets easier by the day.
“What I found today is once you kind of get in the flow of things, it makes it a little easier,” Hunter said. “I know tomorrow’s practice will be even easier and then the day after that. I have just got to find a rhythm, I guess.”
INJURY REPORT: Aside from the upgrade on Saffold’s condition, the Rams had no alterations to their injury report.
Of note for Washington, receiver Pierre Garcon was upgraded from not participating to limited participation. He’s dealing with a foot injury.