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Johnny Hekker's second Pro Bowl bid just the beginning

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- St. Louis Rams punter Johnny Hekker was a bit surprised when he earned his first Pro Bowl berth after the 2013 season. He was also a bit surprised when he didn't make it last year.

But the 2014 snub added a little fuel to Hekker's fire. It was apparently enough to spur the Rams' fourth-year punter into his second Pro Bowl in the past three seasons, as the league revealed it's annual all-star teams Tuesday evening.

"Last year off was, was, maybe motivation, just recognizing I’ve got to do a little bit more and step my game up," Hekker said. "And make sure that I leave no doubt. That’s what I tried to do this year."

Consider it mission accomplished for Hekker, who not only will be making a return trip to Hawaii for his second Pro Bowl, but is arguably putting together one of the best seasons by a punter in NFL history.

With two games left to play, Hekker is second in the NFL in net punting average (43.9 yards), first in gross average (48.3 yards) and has dropped a league-leading 38 punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line. For those that might scoff at Hekker's production because he's tied for the most punt attempts in the league, there's an argument to be made that having so many chances makes his consistent production all the more impressive.

"Some of the stuff he’s done is extraordinary," coach Jeff Fisher said. "So, he’s got a lot of recognition around the league, a lot of respect. We’ve known that and certainly he’s worthy of (the Pro Bowl)."

Considering the Rams' offensive woes, Hekker has regularly been asked to swing field position to help the Rams' defense and keep the team in games. That he's been able to do it so consistently is a testament to his focus. Asked how he's been able to do it, Hekker pointed to the help of a punt team that has been strong in coverage with very few miscues.

"I can punt the ball as far as I want because I really trust the other 10 guys that I play with to go cover the guy," Hekker said. "We’ve had plenty of punt return attempts and our guys are just doing a great job of either drawing penalties and negating the return from the get go or tackling the guy right upon the catch. Coach [John] Fassel has had our guys dialed in and everyone has bought into our philosophy as a special teams unit to be bad asses out there and fly around and have a lot of energy and be contagious."

Of course, it's still incumbent on Hekker to find a way to maintain his focus. With so many attempts, you'd think he would eventually have a lapse that would hurt his numbers. It hasn't really happened.

"Every rep is the most important rep of my career when I’m out there," Hekker said. "I put focus into preparation throughout the week and visualize a lot and I think that goes a long way into being able to replicate results 85-plus times during a season."

Hekker is not only worthy of the Pro Bowl but also of being right at the top of the list of the best punters in the league. He set the NFL record for net punting in 2013 at 44.2 and his current net of 43.9 is the fourth-best performance in a season in league history. A strong finish would give Hekker a shot at breaking his own record, something he acknowledges is on his list of individual goals for the season.

"I wrote a number down in my locker," Hekker said. "It might be a little tough to get that number but the all time record is still right there for the taking. (Baltimore's Sam Koch) is knocking on the door as well. We’ve got our work cut out for us these last two games, pretty good returners so we have to do things like we’ve done all season and just put the work in."

Hekker isn't guaranteed of being a perennial Pro Bowler but now that he's earned a couple of nods, chances are that his reputation will begin to precede him. Still, Hekker believes he hasn't yet played his best football.

"I really don’t believe so," Hekker said. "I’ve had some longer punts this season but I guess just being experienced and improving consistency is key so I think from that standpoint, I’ve probably been as good as I have been but I’m always trying to get better and there’s always room for improvement."