Bill Belichick's praise of Johnny Hekker is pure Belichickian

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick's over-the-top praise of Los Angeles Rams punter Johnny Hekker in his Wednesday morning news conference will garner headlines for obvious reasons, as he called Hekker as good of a weapon as he has ever seen at that position in his 42 years of coaching.

A compliment like that doesn't come around often from Belichick and also could lead some to an obvious punch line: If the coach is talking so glowingly about the punter, that probably doesn't speak too highly of the opposing team.

Fair enough, as the 4-7 Rams are heavy underdogs for Sunday's game against the 9-2 Patriots at Gillette Stadium. If Hekker is on the field a lot, that's probably a good thing for the Patriots.

But there was a lot more to digest from Belichick's remarks than just that, as it sparked memories of him going to bat publicly for punter Ray Guy's Pro Football Hall of Fame candidacy in 2012, past stories he's told about the excellence of Giants punter Dave Jennings ("never been a more complete punter"), and more recently pinpointing Thomas Morstead of the New Orleans Saints as a standard of excellence who has the consistency of a JUGS machine ("a clinic"). Sean Landeta and Tom Tupa have also come up in the punter discussion over the years.

On Wednesday, Belichick said of Hekker with emphasis: "This guy is a weapon. I mean, he's not a good player. He's a weapon."

Those comments reflect how Hekker is not just effective striking the football and making it challenging on returners, but also how he has been running successful fakes because "you're talking about an athlete."

They also serve as a reminder of how Belichick approaches game-plan preparations each week with his own players, getting them familiar with the opposition's personnel and the areas in which they can stress his own team and potentially take control of the game. Belichick will often isolate a few main things and drill them into his players each week.

So while the initial reaction might be to laugh at "punter talk," also consider that the last time Belichick was this emphatic and glowing about an opponent's special-teams personnel was last year before a game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

A few days later, a blocked punt by the Eagles, coupled with a long return, were key plays in their 35-28 upset win over the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.