It would be difficult to find any head coach in NFL history who has ever praised a punter like New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has praised Johnny Hekker.
Hekker, formerly a member of the Rams, was initially referred to as a “weapon” by Belichick before New England faced Los Angeles in 2016. Belichick later went on to double and even triple down on that “weapon” designation before the Patriots faced Hekker and the Rams in Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Well, fast forward a few years, and Belichick clearly has not forgotten about Hekker, despite the four-time All-Pro now playing with the Carolina Panthers. Belichick went on to reference Hekker in a long-winded response to a question about Panthers head coach Matt Rhule. Belichick’s response, which started by acknowledging his connection to Rhule went back to when Rhule was on the coaching staff at Temple more than a decade ago, found its way to Hekker some 60 seconds later.
” … You can see the moves that they’ve made to strengthen their team,” Belichick said of the Panthers prior to New England hosting Carolina for joint practices Tuesday, per the team. “They’re going to be very good and they’re going to challenge in a lot of ways. Defensively they’re as good as anybody we see, offensively they’re very explosive.
“They changed coordinators in the kicking game and the acquisition of Hekker and (returner Andre) Roberts I’m sure will impact those units dramatically,” Belichick said. “So this is a great opportunity for us to work against a good, quality football team that has a lot of good players, that’s well coached and that’s established a lot of strong things on the field. And I think, again, you can see where they’ve tried to address some things and I’m sure those will be better too.”
Belichick’s mention of Hekker, while brief, came after the head coach brushed off a specific question about Panthers signal-caller Baker Mayfield. He answered that question by noting the Patriots are just focused on their own development. He, almost comically, didn’t have time for the less important positions on the Panthers such as quarterback.
The Patriots will host the Panthers in two days of joint practices before facing Carolina in a preseason matchup Friday night a Gillette Stadium. In total, it might result in three days of Hekker watching for Belichick.
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