<
>

Benny Cunningham quietly emerged as kick return whiz

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- During the final meeting of the 2014 St. Louis Rams on Monday, Rams coach Jeff Fisher went through the usual checklist of things to tell his team before sending it on its way.

That checklist included the usual warnings about making wise decisions, how to stay in shape and other basic instructions. Fisher also took a moment to recognize a player that hadn't gotten much recognition for the job he did during the season: running back/kick returner Benny Cunningham.

Fisher made it a point to present Cunningham and the entire kickoff return team with a game ball after putting the finishing touches on a season in which Cunningham led the NFC in kickoff return average at 27.5 yards per attempt. That total was fifth in the NFL.

“As far as our special teams are concerned, we gave the game balls Monday morning to the entire kickoff return team and Benny for leading the NFC in kickoff returns," Fisher said. "I thought it was an outstanding effort."

For the season, Cunningham finished with 35 returns for 963 yards with a long of 75 yards. Although he's not the fastest or shiftiest returner you'll find, Cunningham proved successful by being decisive and capable of shedding tackles when defenders didn't wrap him up.

That Cunningham managed to post such solid return numbers was a welcome surprise for the Rams considering kick returner had been a position without a definitive solution entering the season. Chris Givens, Tavon Austin and Isaiah Pead were among the many who were getting opportunities in the offseason.

Given Cunningham's performance this year, that's a problem the Rams don't figure to have moving forward.