EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Already without starter Greg Zuerlein because of a right groin injury, the St. Louis Rams found themselves digging even deeper than they could have imagined into their kicking depth chart just before Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals.
Moments before kickoff, Rams kicker Zach Hocker strained a quadriceps. When informed of Hocker's ailment, Rams coach Jeff Fisher went scouring for a replacement.
"We had an issue in the pregame warmups with him," Fisher said. "He strained a quad and I found out right before kickoff. I went through the locker room and I was just asking guys if they've ever kicked before. I had two yesses, one from [end Matt] Longacre and one from [receiver] Wes Welker. Fortunately we didn't have to get to that point."
Hocker ended up being healthy enough to handle field goals and extra points, though that meant just one short field goal for the day which Hocker made. But the Rams didn't want to push Hocker too much so they turned to punter Johnny Hekker to kick off.
And Hekker, who is once again putting together a Pro Bowl caliber punting performance, actually proved quite adept on his two kickoff attempts. His first try went for a touchback and his second pinned Arizona at its 2 after the Cardinals muffed the kickoff.
Not bad for a player who found out just before the game that he was going to be doing kickoffs and was warming up with Welker on the field for a brief stint.
"We came in as a team and they told me Zach had a little tweak in his quad so came in and Coach Fish and Coach [John] Fassel grabbed me and Wes and said 'Hey, we're going to need you guys to kick some balls and see where we're at,'" Hekker said. "I haven't kicked off since high school. That was fun."
Perhaps more impressive was that Hekker was able to put together another outstanding punting performance despite vacillating between the swing needed to punt and the one needed for a kickoff.
Hekker punted eight times for a net average of 48.3 yards and dropped five of those attempts inside Arizona's 20.
"It's a very different swing than punting so it puts some stress on your groin but it's something that we try to stay away from because Greg does a great job and Zach does a great job as well so let the guys play what they do," Hekker said. "I've got to roll with the punches."
Zuerlein did light kicking as a warmup before the game but was a pregame inactive. The Rams remain hopeful that Zuerlein can bounce back this week but they'll also have to keep an eye on Hocker moving forward.
"We kept him warm and we had a real good feel for his distances for field goals and extra points but it made no sense for him to kick off so that's why we had Hekk doing it," Fisher said.