ST. LOUIS — While offensive linemen rattled a blocking sled and receivers made cuts and caught passes, Greg Zuerlein stood alone, shifting a football from one hand to the other.
“It’s not as lonely as people think,” he said when another Rams organized team activity dismissed Tuesday afternoon.
He might be out of the spotlight during spring practices, but Zuerlein, whose long bombs earned him a “Greg the Leg” nickname, is working. On a rarely used field at the Rams facility, the one with the artificial grass and perfect lines, Zuerlein has been honing his game quietly. He has specific results in mind for his second season.
“Be more consistent,” he said. “I started out pretty well, then had a few rough games in the middle of the season. For me, personally, it was probably the worst year I ever had. I wasn’t very happy with it.”
Zuerlein, 25, was a sixth-round pick in 2012. He came from Missouri Western, a Division II school where he missed just once in 24 attempts. The Rams cut Josh Brown after Zuerlein was drafted, and the rookie stepped into the starting role.
He kicked every one of the Rams’ 31 field goals, gaining a cult-like following for his willingness to attempt lengthy tries that, for others, would be out of range. Thirteen times — three more than any other NFL kicker — he attempted field goals of 50-plus yards. He made seven.
“Even with those, anytime you go out there you should make the kick,” he said. “Last year, I missed too many, I felt. They gave me plenty of opportunities. I just didn’t pull through. That’s something I want to eliminate.”
More distance means more difficulty, sure. But Zuerlein won’t accept that as an excuse. He sees room to improve, and the numbers support his claim.
Zuerlein’s 23 makes on 31 attempts last season made for a field-goal percentage of 74.2. That was the third-worst percentage in the NFL among full-time kickers, ahead of only San Francisco’s David Akers (29 of 42, 69 percent) and Green Bay’s Mason Crosby (21 of 33, 63.6 percent).
But any comparison of Zuerlein’s statistics with other kickers requires a caveat: He attempts a lot more long field goals than most kickers. So it isn’t fair to compare him with, say, Washington’s Kai Forbath, who led the league with a field-goal percentage of 94.4 (17 of 18) last season, but tried only one from 50 yards or more. That’s 12 fewer than Zuerlein attempted.
Vikings kicker Blair Walsh, on the other hand, works. He made 35 of 38 kicks (92.1 percent) as a rookie in 2012, including 10 of 10 from 50 yards or more.
That’s the kind of success Zuerlein seeks. Greg the Leg has the power. Now the consistency must come.
“Keep on improving that, and hopefully carry that through the whole season,” he said. “Not just a good game here or there. Have it every game.”
Follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred), or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.