FOXBORO, Mass. — New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick loves himself some Johnny Hekker.
We’ve known about Belichick’s fixation with Hekker for two seasons now, ever since calling the punter a “weapon” prior to the Patriots’ 2016 matchup with the Los Angeles Rams.
Belichick continued heaping effusive praise on Hekker on Thursday, 10 days out from the Patriots-Rams Super Bowl LIII matchup. The first Rams players Belichick mentioned in Thursday’s news conference were kicker Greg Zuerlein and Hekker.
“Really every kicking play is an explosive play, potentially for the Rams,” Belichick said. “The kickers have big legs. Obviously, Zuerlein’s field goal was the difference in the (NFC) championship game. Hekker’s a tremendous player, great athlete. He’s a weapon.”
The first question Belichick fielded was also about Hekker’s uniqueness.
“Yeah, again, he’s a weapon on the field,” Belichick reiterated. “He can change field position. He’s a good situational punter. Obviously, he’s very athletic and you have to respect his ability to handle the ball. I think the main thing when you send your punt return team out there is you want to make sure you get the ball back at the end of the play. That’s not always that difficult, but these guys it’s pretty challenging. They’re, as I said, they’re all weapons. Zuerlein’s a weapon, Hekker’s a weapon. They do a good job in the return game.”
Hekker finished seventh in the NFL this season with 46.3 yards per punt. He was second in net punting average, which includes the length of return. He finished tied for fifth among punters with just two touchbacks. Of Hekker’s 43 punts, 48.8 percent of them landed inside the 20-yard line. That was the fourth-highest rate among punters this season.
Hekker also has completed 11-of-19 passes for 156 yards with a touchdown during his seven-year career. He completed a 12-yard pass on a fake punt in the Rams’ NFC Championship Game over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday as LA was facing fourth-and-5.