Former Missouri Western kicker Greg Zuerlein off to a perfect start in the NFL

ST. LOUIS (AP) - Looking for a sure thing on offense three games into the Jeff Fisher era with the St. Louis Rams? It might be Greg Zuerlein.

The rookie kicker is 8 for 8 on field goals this season, including a 56-yarder last week -- 1 yard shy of the franchise record.

Sam Bradford passed for 310 yards and three touchdowns two weeks ago, but didn't get the Rams into the end zone in Sunday's loss at Chicago. Running back Steven Jackson is nursing a groin injury. An offensive line that had been keeping Bradford fairly clean surrendered six sacks to the Bears.

Zuerlein, a sixth-round pick out of Division II Missouri Western, has been on the money all three games. He's been effective on kickoffs, too, with special teams limiting opponents to a 17.4-yard average return.

"I guess I'm just confident in my abilities. I expect to make the kick, so I don't get nervous really," Zuerlein said. "I just go out there focused on what I have to do and make it happen."

Special teams coach John Fassel said he's never worked with a kicker this talented so early in his career. If the timing is right, at the end of the half or end of the game, the Rams would be willing to give Zuerlein a shot from 60 yards or beyond.

"I'll put it this way, he can set an NFL record if the conditions are right," Fassel said.

Fisher, who is in his 17th season as a head coach, said the only kicker he's coached that comes close to Zuerlein's booming leg is Rob Bironas.

"Bironas has got a very strong leg," Fisher said. "But I've not seen anybody like Greg."

Bradford needs a bounceback game after passing for 152 yards against the Bears, and the Rams (1-2) are hoping to get more out of Jackson, who had just 29 yards on 11 carries. They'll hope for a more cohesive day against Seattle this Sunday from the patchwork line that made its first start as a unit and gets another week to work on fine tuning.

As for Greg the Leg, they just want more of the same from the 6-foot, 187-pounder with some serious hidden power.

"You see him in the mall, he looks like any other 24-year-old walking around," Fassel said. "But his leg speed is incredible. One of the best things about him is he gets the ball up fast. I mean, that thing gets up fast and the distance is there."

Zuerlein's 56-yarder in the second quarter against the Bears is second-best in franchise history behind Jeff Wilkins' 57-yarder in 1998, and it beat the elements, too. Fisher had the punt team on the field because the wind was in the kicker's face, but after a timeout by the Bears the wind changed and Fisher got Zuerlein on the field.

Zuerlein said he made a 60-yarder during pre-game warmups at Soldier Field. Zuerlein set a Division II record his senior year at Missouri Western with 21 consecutive field goals, nine from 50 yards or longer with a pair of 58-yarders. The Rams drafted him in the sixth round and released veteran kicker Josh Brown, preferring to rebuild the downtrodden franchise with youth.

The Rams also have a rookie punter in undrafted Johnny Hekker, who replaced veteran Donnie Jones.

Zuerlein said years spent playing soccer probably accounts for his explosive leg power, and not because of "anything too strenuous" in the weight room. He has a quick approach to the ball with an angle that's not as pronounced as most kickers.

"I go in and do the work we're supposed to do, but I can't squat a house or anything like that," Zuerlein said. "It's probably about the same amount of weight just an average person might lift."

Fassel believes Zuerlein's strength comes from a strong mental approach, and technique that doesn't change whether it's a chip shot or from midfield.

"A 25-yard field goal to him is the same as a 65-yard field goal. Every kick, which is great about him, is the same," Fassel said. "He doesn't kind of just tender-foot the short ones and he doesn't try to kill the long ones."

So far, he's been unflappable. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan called last-second timeouts to ice the rookie to no avail, although a kick that didn't count ended up inches wide to the left. Protecting his kicker, Fassel said Zuerlein missed on purpose.

"It would have been no good, but luckily he did call that timeout," Zuerlein said with a chuckle. "It worked out for me."
 

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