“The Rams and the Los Angeles community are fortunate to have Johnny Hekker as part of our collective team,” said Molly Higgins, vice president of community affairs and engagement, Los Angeles Rams. “Johnny embodies everything that you want in a player both on and off the field. As a professional athlete, he truly appreciates the platform he has to positively impact the community and the lives of others. We are thrilled to recognize him as our representative for one of the NFL’s most prestigious awards.”
In commemoration of the award, Hekker will receive a $50,000 donation which he is directing to The Grace Network, an organization that exists to mobilize and resource communities to combat human trafficking locally in California and beyond. Hekker’s brother-in-law, Chris Stambaugh, founded the organization in 2009.
An additional $50,000 will be donated in Hekker’s name to fund Character Playbook in Los Angeles, the NFL and United Way’s premier digital education program that trains students on how to cultivate and maintain healthy relationships during their critical middle school years. The Rams and United Way of Greater Los Angeles launched Character Playbook in this community earlier this season at Santee Education Complex.
Donations are courtesy of the NFL Foundation, Nationwide and United Way Worldwide.
To further celebrate and encourage fan support of the 32 team Man of the Year nominees, Nationwide, the presenting sponsor of the Award, will host the second annual Charity Challenge. As part of the social media challenge, fans may support Hekker by tagging tweets with #HekkerWPMOYChallenge. The player hashtag that generates the most mentions will win an additional $25,000 donation to his charity of choice, courtesy of Nationwide.
Coming off a 2015 campaign where he led the NFL in net average (43.7), gross average (47.9) and punts downed inside the opponents’ 20-yard line (41), Hekker is off to another great 2016 campaign. He has a net average of over 45 yards per punt, on pace to break his own league-leading record of a 44.2-yard net average, which the former Beaver established during the 2013 season. Hekker also has placed a league-leading 40 punts inside opponents’ 20-yard line, six short of matching the NFL single-season record in that category, all with only one touchback.
Leading the team with community appearances this year, Hekker has a passion for working with kids through NFL PLAY 60 and assisting people with developmental disabilities.
Once the Rams relocated from St. Louis to L.A., the two-time Pro Bowler found a variety of ways to give back to his new home by participating in community events such as the Rams’ Play 60 Field Day, NFL Draft Party, and the Taste of the NFL, among many others.
This past June, Hekker became the Los Angeles representative for Waterboys, an organization founded by former teammate Chris Long that focuses on providing clean water for those around the world.
Hekker and the Rams teamed up with Make-A-Wish Greater Los Angeles to welcome the Rams back to the region and kick off the Inaugural “Night for Wishes” to help grant wishes for children with life-threatening medical conditions in LA County.
Through his father’s work with adults with developmental disorders, Hekker developed his greatest passion of helping those with special needs. Hekker has capitalized on his platform to help spread awareness of special needs issues and foster related campaigns by participating in PSAs for the Special Olympics Illinois. Additionally, the two-time Pro Bowler has been a great friend to Team Activities for Special Kids (TASK), a St. Louis-based nonprofit that offers year-round instructional sports programs that provide athletic and social opportunities to kids with special needs by making several visits to play with the kids and help build their self-esteem.
ABOUT THE WALTER PAYTON MAN OF THE YEAR AWARD:
The Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award presented by Nationwide recognizes an NFL player for his excellence on and off the field. The award, which was established in 1970 and renamed in 1999 after the late Hall of Fame Chicago Bears running back, Walter Payton, is considered the league’s most prestigious honor. Each team nominates one player who has had a significant positive impact on his community to be considered for the national award.
Three of the 32 nominees will be selected as finalists, and the winner will be announced in Houston at NFL Honors, a two-hour primetime awards special to air nationally on February 4, the night before Super Bowl LI, from 8-10 p.m. (ET and PT) on FOX.
Rams rookie quarterback Jared Goff was absent from Wednesday’s practice after coming down with an illness. But, according to head coach Jeff Fisher, Goff should still be in solid position to start and play well on Sunday.
“Jared came in the building early this morning and he wasn’t feeling well,” head coach Jeff Fisher said. “So, we treated him, he participated in the meetings, through install and everything, and just was not feeling well. We felt it was best to send him home. He’ll be back in the morning, I’m sure.”
“It doesn’t set him back at all,” Fisher added. “Not at all, I’m not concerned about it.”
Fisher said Goff contraced a virus that has been going around the team. And it's because the quarterback was able to participate in aspects of Los Angeles’ player activities prior to being sent home that Fisher has confidence the quarterback will be fine despite missing the important Wednesday practice.
“He understands what we’re doing,” Fisher said. “He was in the install, he sat way in the back in the room, but he was there. He participated and observed the walk-thru prior to practice and it was just best to send him back so we could get him back tomorrow. Tomorrow’s their day off and I would expect him to be here all day watching practice and install and everything.”
With Goff out, Fisher said quarterback Case Keenum “did a great job getting the offense ready today.”
Goff has made three starts in his rookie campaign, completing 53.7 percent of his passes for 509 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions. He’s also taken eight sacks in those three games, with opponents bringing him down on 7.8 percent of his dropbacks.
Offensive coordinator Rob Boras said Wednesday that Goff has done well in managing the many different situations that have come up over the last three weeks.
“He’s handled all the pressures, he’s handling things well,” Boras said. “He probably admit he got a little rattled later in the game. But again, it’s proven that it’s not too big for him at all.”
Boras commented that Goff has displayed he can extend plays when the pocket breaks down — an encouraging ability because it’s what the league’s best quarterbacks are able to do.
“Jared has shown that ability and that’s going to be huge for us moving forward,” Boras said.
However, teams do now have three games of tape to study on Goff, which could potentially lead to a few more difficult looks for the rookie to solve.
“Like our defenses do, I know that they’re going to watch the TV copy, so they can hear his cadence and try to gain an advantage,” Boras said of the Rams’ opponents. “Now, there is obviously more of that and they’re kind of learning who he is and what his perceived strengths or weaknesses are now. I would think just with the sample size now being three games that it would be something that they think they have a better feel for.”
A NEED TO SUSTAIN DRIVES
Last week, seven of Los Angeles’ 13 offensive drives ended in three plays or fewer. That undoubtedly contributed to a heavily lopsided time of possession, which the Patriots finished leading 37:57 to 22:03.
With L.A. facing another one of the NFL’s top offenses — Atlanta ranks No. 1 in scoring, No. 3 in total offense, and No. 3 in passing offense — some of the onus of containing quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones actually falls on the Rams’ offense.
“We like our plan and we’re going to have to get it going — just to keep Matt off the field because they’re so explosive offensively,” Fisher said.
“I would say it’s fair to say, because I think a big thing for us is really getting the time of possession,” offensive lineman Rodger Saffold said. “So, what does that mean? Being able to convert third downs, keep drives alive. Because as much as we can keep him off the field, the better it’s going to be.”
Getting longer drives means staying ahead of the chains. The Rams especially had trouble with that against the Patriots, according to Boras.
“In this past game, I think we had 11 or 12 third downs, and we averaged over 11 yards to go on third down and that’s really hard,” Boras said.
“We need to be more efficient on first and second down,” the offensive coordinator later added. “That doesn’t mean just playing small ball. Again – explosiveness, whether that comes through the run or the pass. When you’re creating gains of 12 yards or more, it’s going to help you move down the field. Our inability right now on first and second down to gain four yards or more is hurting us.”
Getting solid yardage on first and second down usually comes from a solid rushing attack, and that’s what the Rams will try to get on track against Atlanta.
“We’re going to have to run the ball effectively, get ourselves into 3rd-and-manageable situations — I think our average is like 3rd-and-11 from last week,” Saffold said. “So we need to get that down and just extend drives.”
Aside from Goff, the Rams had five players listed on their injury report.
Saffold (hand) and wide receiver Tavon Austin (chest) were full participants in the session.
“My hand is actually doing really great,” Saffold said. “It felt really good to be able to go in there and hit some pads, test everything out.”
The veteran offensive lineman added he feels the coaches gave him another week to recover because he had only his thumb and index finger out from the wrap on his hand.
Robert Quinn (concussion) was limited in Wednesday’s session.
Finally, running back Benny Cunningham (neck) and cornerback E.J. Gaines (thigh) did not participate in Wednesday's practice.
A satirical look at more than 75 years of Football's Rams history, combined with discussions of American Exceptionalism and almost 50 years of personal experience in the life of a Rams Fan. The history parallels and intertwines life to form a humorous, yet serious look at American History, World History, an American Football team, and Political Science.