The Rams may be 4-7 and the Patriots may eat rookie quarterbacks for dinner, but Bill Belichick isn’t fooled. Not when Los Angeles brings one of the most dangerous weapons in the game to town in Johnny Hekker.
Yes, Johnny Hekker. The punter.
Now, the Patriots coach is the master of finding ways to hype up a team that just isn’t good. (Ryan Fitzpatrick? One of the most underrated blocking quarterbacks in the league.) But he took it to another level Wednesday morning.
“This guy is as good a player as I’ve ever seen at that position,” said Belichick. “He’s a tremendous weapon in his ability to punt the ball, punt it inside the 20, directional-kick it, involved in fakes, can throw, can run, very athletic.”
Hekker is very good. He’s averaging 46.7 yards per punt. He’s also 6 feet 5 inches and 227 pounds and is a former high school quarterback who occasionally dusts off his rocket arm on fakes.
“He’s dangerous. Absolutely,” said Belichick. “He’s like a quarterback. He can throw, he can run, you’ve got to defend him like you defend a lot of those guys.
“I mean this guy, he’s a weapon. I mean, he’s not a good player, he’s a weapon.”
OK, but he’s still the punter. Don’t the Patriots want to see a lot of him?
“Just got to make sure we get the ball,” Belichick said. “Another part of the problem is just catching the ball.
“He kicks it so far and he makes the returner move for it and they run over there and they mishandle it or it hits the ground and rolls for another 20 yards and it’s a tough ball to catch because you’re not just shagging flies out there.
“He’s making you run and he’s kicking it over your head and so the ball handling is tough for the returners, too. Very tough.
“I hope he gets a good workout.”
Hekker was the apple of Belichick’s eye for a solid chunk of the morning news conference, but the coach saved a few breaths to acknowledge right tackle Marcus Cannon’s new five-year contract, which was reported Tuesday.
“Marcus has always done a solid job for us whenever he’s played, so I’m glad we have him going forward,” Belichick said. “He works hard. Quiet kid, but he’s very dependable, team-oriented. He’s done a good job for us in the running game and the passing game. Good player.”
Belichick said it “definitely” helped for Cannon to lose weight during the offseason and that coach Dante Scarnecchia has done an excellent job with the offensive line since coming out of retirement this season.
“I mean, Dante, I’ve said many times, is as great a coach as anybody I’ve ever been around,” Belichick said. “He’s up there with Scott O’Brien, Nick Saban, guys like that.”