The youngest unit on the NFL’s youngest team, the Rams’ special teams struggled early but came on strong in 2013. Penalties were a problem overall for the Rams this season and the special teamers were especially guilty at the outset. Through their first five games, the Rams special teams were flagged 17 times for 145 yards, costing the Rams 306 yards in field position. In that span, rookie kick returner Tavon Austin had 188 return yards wiped out by penalties, including an 84-yard touchdown in Dallas. Not necessarily in agreement with all the calls going against his players, Rams special teams coordinator John Fassel stuck with his youngsters and eventually they responded. In Games 6-15, the Rams’ special teams were penalized 12 times for 70 yards, costing the team 80 yards in field position. “We haven’t changed anything,’’ Fassel said at midseason. “We’ve just been working really hard at getting better.’’ Talking before the Rams’ penalty-filled finale in Seattle, Fassel applauded his troops. “I think the special teams guys, with all the youth, made a lot of improvement. ... We talked about (being) better in the last eight games than the first eight games,’’ said Fassel, who coached in Baltimore and Oakland before joining the Rams for the 2012 season. Rams head coach Jeff Fisher said the game in Seattle “was a little different.’’ “We were playing hard and (it was) just a little chippy,’’ he said. “We went out to play a physical, physical ballgame. ... We had things get a little out of hand.’’ As a team, the Rams picked up 12 penalties for 87 yards and had nearly as many wiped out by offsetting calls against the Seahawks. Four of Sunday’s calls came on special teams, but two of those came in frustration just after defensive tackle Kendall Langford was erroneously ejected after making accidental contact with an official. The Seahawks (128) and Rams (123) finished the season 1-2, respectively in penalties. “Just one of those areas that we have to dwell on and emphasize from the day (the players) come back,’’ Fisher said. As for special teams, the head coach saw plenty of progress. “The things that took place in our special teams room this year and on the practice field and in games was outstanding,’’ Fisher said. “It was truly a great effort on behalf of Coach Fassel and (assistant coach Paul F.) Boudreau.’’ Leading the way was second-year punter Johnny Hekker, who earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl after setting an NFL record with a 44.2-yard net punting average.
Rams special teams improved after early-season mistakes
St. Louis Post-Dispatch | Jan 3