Friday, December 27, 2013
Pro Bowl selections: St. Louis Rams
By Nick Wagoner
ST. LOUIS -- As expected, St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn was rewarded for his breakout 2013 season with a trip to the Pro Bowl, the NFL announced Friday night. Punter Johnny Hekker also got the nod for his first Pro Bowl berth.
Quinn and Hekker were clearly the Rams' most deserving candidates and though Quinn seemed a relative slam dunk based on the fan voting portion, Hekker's chances appeared a bit more tenuous. In the end, the coaches and players got both selections correct as the Rams will send teammates to Hawaii for the first time since 2006.
Powered by league-leading totals in sacks (18) and forced fumbles (seven), Quinn became the first Rams defensive player to earn the trip since 2003 when the team sent defensive end Leonard Little and safety Aeneas Williams as representatives.
The Rams were on a plane to Seattle when the results were announced but Quinn discussed his stance on awards in general Thursday afternoon.
"If you think about all that too much it'll kind of stiffen you up," Quinn said. "It makes you too robotic out there because you're trying to make all these plays. And it makes you overthink things. So you definitely put them out the window and go play."
The humble Quinn isn't one to toot his own horn but then, he hasn't needed to. There are plenty of people in the Rams locker room and on the coaching staff more than willing to plead his case. In fact, should Quinn finish the season with a flourish Sunday in Seattle there could be rewards far beyond a trip to the Pro Bowl in his future.
If Quinn can beat out Indianapolis' Robert Mathis for the sack title -- Mathis has 17.5 -- he'll take home the first Deacon Jones award for most sacks in a season. He'll also have a strong case as the league's Defensive Player of the Year.
"Robert is playing at an elite level," defensive coordinator Tim Walton said. "He's the best pass rusher in the game. He's the best pass rusher in the NFL. He gets chipped. He gets doubled. He can beat them with an edge rush. He can beat them with an inside move. He'll power rush guys. Since Week 8 or 9, teams have been doubling him and trying to move away from him and he still finds a way with his speed and tenacity to get to the quarterback ... So in my opinion, he's the best in the game."
The numbers would also indicate that Hekker has been the best in the game in 2013 at his position. His gross average of 46.08 is solid if unspectacular but that's not what has helped him stand out in 2013. Hekker's combination of hang time and directional punting has allowed him to lead the league in net punting with an average of 43.82 yards. He also has just four touchbacks on 71 attempts and has dropped 18 punts inside the opponent's 20.
With a strong effort against the Seahawks, Hekker could break San Francisco punter Andy Lee's season net punting record of 44 yards. He's the first Rams' specialist to earn the trip since kicker Jeff Wilkins in 2003 and the first punter since Dale Hatcher in 1985.
"With Johnny, the thing with him is we keep preaching consistency and I probably can't ask for any more consistency out of him," special teams coordinator John Fassel said. "I think he's been dynamite. He has also continued to improve, so again like the rest of the core guys, I think we've got young guys that we can really build around."
While other Rams -- notably linebacker Alec Ogletree, offensive tackle Jake Long and middle linebacker James Laurinaitis -- have had solid seasons, the Rams shouldn't really have any legitimate beef with the Pro Bowl selections.
For a team that hasn't had a player other than running back Steven Jackson representing it in Hawaii since 2007, getting the two players on the roster most deserving of the honor is a step in the right direction.
Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.