NFL: Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein a rookie sensation
Missouri Western was a must stop for NFL special teams coaches this spring. Everyone wanted a close look at the kicker who made 21 field goals in a row, nine of them from midfield or beyond.
The Vikings put Greg Zuerlein high on their shopping list. The Texans made the trip to St. Joseph, Mo., too. Rams special teams coach John Fassel showed up twice.
It's no surprise to his college coaches that Zuerlein has made the jump from Division II to the pros with panache, emerging as a star in St. Louis.
Jay White, the kicking coach at Missouri Western, moonlights on the sidelines at Kansas City Chiefs home games. He predicted the kid who hit the occasional 70-yarder in warm-ups and has enough power to make a 50-yarder with a one-step approach would fit right in.
"Last year, I would be on the field at Arrowhead Stadium around the kickers and say 'My guy yesterday did a better job,'" White said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press. "When Greg hits the ball, you can hear it. Feel it, too."
Zuerlein broke the Rams franchise record with a 58-yarder in the first quarter Sunday against the Seahawks, then topped it with a 60-yarder in the second half. He's perfect on 12 field goal attempts for St. Louis (2-2), and he's the first player in NFL history to make a 60-yard field goal and a 50-plus yarder in the same game.
After the Rams beat the Seahawks without an offensive touchdown but with four field goals from Zuerlein plus a fake field goal for a TD pass, running back Steven Jackson proclaimed Zuerlein the Rams' MVP.
Quarterback Sam Bradford said this is the first time he's been on a team where the kicker is the most popular player. He was shocked when the Rams called for the 60-yarder, just 3 yards shy of the NFL record.
"I was like 'What?'" Bradford said. "But sure enough, he's been awesome. You can't ask for much more in a kicker and I'm sure he's going to continue to play great for us."
Zuerlein's plenty confident lining up kicks and has no concerns about playing in prime time on Thursday night against the unbeaten Arizona Cardinals.
"Honestly, it's going to feel the same as any other game. It doesn't matter how many people are watching, you just go out there play the game."
Zuerlein has not forgotten his roots. He wore a bright yellow Missouri Western T-shirt after the game.
The 24-year-old Zuerlein opted for hometown Nebraska-Omaha out of high school when the best offer he could get from Division I schools was the opportunity to walk on. He finished his college career at Missouri Western after Nebraska-Omaha dropped football and the NCAA denied him a sixth year of eligibility despite a year lost to injury.
Missouri Western was not as far-fetched of an option as it might seem. The school is the Chiefs' training camp home and has top-notch facilities including what coaches tout as one of the best indoor facilities in the country bar none.
"I figured if I wanted to try and pursue this dream and make it into the NFL, I'm going to want to be kicking in the offseason," Zuerlein said. "I would be able to kick in the winter when there's snow on the ground."
Around the league
Steelers • Coach Mike Tomlin said he expects safety Troy Polamalu (calf), linebacker James Harrison (knee) and running back Rashard Mendenhall (knee) to return to Pittsburgh's lineup Sunday against Philadelphia.
Dolphins • Receiver Jabar Gaffney signed with Miami, which terminated the contract of receiver Legedu Naanee. Gaffney, 31, had the best season of his career last year with Washington, then signed with New England and was released at the end of training camp. Gaffney, who is in his 11th season, had 68 catches for 947 yards and five scores last year.
Naanee made only one catch this season.
Ravens • Center Matt Birk has voiced his opposition to same-sex marriage, a view that opposes that of teammate Brandon Ayanbadejo. In an article printed Sunday in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Birk wrote, "Ideas have consequences, and laws shape culture. Marriage redefinition will affect the broader well-being of children and the welfare of society. As a Christian and a citizen, I am compelled to care about both."
Birk is a Roman Catholic and father of six.
Ayanbadejo previously spoke in favor of gay marriage.
Speaking at the Ravens training complex, Birk said, "It's not my goal to engage in any debates with any one person or persons. They have their opinions. It just happens we disagree on what marriage is in the public forum." Week 5 schedule
Arizona at St. Louis, 6:20 p.m., NFL Network
Baltimore at Kansas City, 11 a.m., Ch. 2
Atlanta at Washington, 11 a.m.
Philadelphia at Pittsburgh, 11 a.m.
Green Bay at Indianapolis, 11 a.m.
Cleveland at N.Y. Giants, 11 a.m.
Miami at Cincinnati, 11 a.m.
Seattle at Carolina, 2:05 p.m.
Chicago at Jacksonville, 2:05 p.m.
Buffalo at San Francisco, 2:25 p.m.
Tennessee at Minnesota, 2:25 p.m.
Denver at New England, 2:25 p.m., Ch. 2
San Diego at New Orleans, 6:20 p.m., Ch. 5
Open: Dallas, Detroit, Oakland, Tampa Bay
Houston at N.Y. Jets, 6:30 p.m., ESPN
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