EARTH CITY, Mo. -- After running on fumes the final weeks of his rookie season in 2012, St. Louis Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein vowed to come back stronger to withstand the grind of the NFL season in 2013.
Surely enough, Zuerlein appeared to get stronger as his second season rolled along. While punter Johnny Hekker and the punt-cover team rightly earned most of the accolades, Zuerlein's season was quite good in its own right.
And, like last year at this time, there are ways in which Zuerlein can get better, according to special teams coach John Fassel.
“He’ll probably tell you, (he can improve) a lot," Fassel said. "He’s tweaked just minimally a few things, but we don’t want to change them at all because I keep saying that I was really proud of him, really the last three, four weeks of the season.
"I thought he was stronger the last month than at any point in his first year or even after and up until that point. So, there’s some things … we’re working off on kickoff, as well and on field goals. He knows his leg strength is dynamite and we’re working on putting it right down the middle every time so its good.”
Zuerlein generated a lot of excitement as a rookie for his ability to connect on a variety of long-distance field goals. He set franchise records in the opening weeks of that season but soon began to run low on gas. Part of those late-season struggles were directly related to the fact that he'd had little opportunity to rest his leg in the time after the draft process leading into the season.
At the outset of last season, Fassel set out to monitor Zuerlein's activity so that he would have plenty left to get through the season. It paid off as Zuerlein went 26-of-28 on field goals and made all of his 34 extra-point attempts.
It also didn't hurt that Zuerlein didn't find himself trying to make field goals close to 60 yards on a regular basis. His longest make was from 54 yards out, which was also his longest attempt of the season.
While Fassel mentions working on improved kickoffs -- Zuerlein managed a touchback on 66.7 percent of his kickoffs in 2013 -- he could also stand to improve in key situations.
It was an area in which Zuerlein proved capable as a rookie when he made 53 and 54 yard field goals to tie and beat San Francisco late in the season. But while it's unfair to expect perfection on field goals, Zuerlein's two misses in 2013 were costly. His miss in a 14-9 loss to Seattle on Oct. 28, in particular, prevented the Rams from being able to set up a chip-shot field goal to win. And he missed a week later against Tennessee in another close game.
But that's all part of his continued growth, growth that Fassel believes is only going to continue.
“It was significant," Fassel said. "And then Year 2, the improvement from the beginning of the season to the end of the season was there, too, which was good.”