2016 Training Camp: Improving the L.A. Rams’ special teams

Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein is congratulated by Johnny Hekker, the team's punter, during a December game against Tampa Bay. Hekker's job status is secure coming to Los Angeles, but Zuerlein's is not (Billy Hurst, Billy Hurst, Associated Press).

Many of the Los Angeles Rams special teams personnel that were with the team last year returned f0r 2016. The Rams special teams unit was inconsistent in 2015, with a punting average near the top of the league, but a field goal percentage near the bottom.

The kicking game will have an open competition as last year the Rams struggled with the kicking game. Greg Zuerlein suffered a major dip in his performance, converting only 67 percent of his field goal attempts in 2015, which was the worst in his four-year career. From 50 yards out or more he was even worse, converting only three of nine attempts. Expect Zuerlein to have stiff competition from undrafted rookie Taylor Bertolet. Given Zuerlein’ struggles in 2015, head coach Jeff Fisher feels that there needs to be some kind of a competitive environment this coming season in the kicking game.

While the field goal unit struggled mightily in 2015, the punting game was one of the Rams strong points. Johnny Hekker was named to his second Pro Bowl in 2015, leading the league in gross punt average (47.9 yards), net punt average (43.7 yards), and downed punts inside the 20-yard line 41 times.

Jeff Overbaugh will be the newcomer to the Rams as a backup long snapper to Jake McQuaide. The undrafted San Diego State rookie recorded 510 consecutive clean snaps in college according to Rams insider Myles Simmons. McQuaide, who is entering his sixth year with the Rams has compiled 732 clean snaps throughout his time with the team.

Some familiar faces will be returning the ball on kickoff and punt returns this season. Tavon Austin and Benny Cunningham are expected to return kickoffs and punts in 2016. Cunningham had solid but not spectacular numbers returning kickoffs in 2015, averaging 28.56 yards per kickoff return in 2015. While Cunningham is expected to bear the burden on kickoff returns, Austin is expected to do the same returning punts. Averaging 7.8 yards per punt return and scoring one touchdown in 2015, the Rams hope to make improvements in that department.

Wide receiver Bradley Marquez, running back Chase Reynolds, and rookie tight end Temarrick Hemingway are going to be slotted in with the special teams on a more specialized basis, according to Rams Insider Myles Simmons. With the departure of Daren Bates to the Oakland Raiders, the coaching staff will have the challenge of finding his replacement quickly.

Souces: Myles Simmons, Rams insider, Gary Klein, LA Times, Eric. F. Epler, Penn Live, Nick Wagoner, Espn.com,

Martin Cruz is a staff writer for Rams Talk. You can follow him on Twitter with the username @MCruz1988.

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