New Rams punter Riley Dixon has some big shoes to fill

He not only replaces the punter.

When Riley Dixon signed with the Rams in April, he took the place of Johnny Hekker, a four-time All-Pro who played 10 seasons for a team that won Super Bowl LVI.

Hekker served as team captain and union representative, and was one of the team’s most active participants in community engagement.

“I have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for Johnny, as a person on the field, off the field, as one of the best guys you can come up with – and I think that’s why he’s here and is loved everywhere. Dixon said last week as the Rams began preparations for their opener against the Buffalo Bills Thursday night at SoFi Stadium. “But you know, I don’t really compare myself to anyone.

“I’m not trying to fill in his footsteps. I’m not trying to be like Johnny. The best thing for me is to be the best version of myself, do my best every day and just try to put my team and I in the best position to win football games.”

Dixon, 29, is a six-year veteran. He began his career in 2016 with the Denver Broncos — where Rams special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis was on the team. Dixon played the last four seasons with the New York Giants.

Last season he averaged 39.5 net yards per punt. He placed 24 of 74 punts inside the 20-yard line. He was released after the season in a move that reportedly released $2.8 million in salary caps.

“There are many things I could have done better,” he said. “I’m just trying to learn from what I’ve done in the past and be better next time.”

Dixon got his chance due to a similar cost-cutting move by the Rams. Hekker’s contract — he was to carry a $3.2 million salary cap — and a career-low punting average of 44.2 yards led to the Rams releasing him early in the new league fiscal year. He then signed with the Carolina Panthers.

Dixon, the field goals holder, has “seamlessly merged” with kicker Matt Gay and long snapper Matthew Orzech, Gay said.

“He’s really uncomplicated… he fits right in,” Gay said, adding, “He’s an amazing holder…. And he’s a damn good suitor.”

Whether Dixon can be a comparable passer remains to be seen.

During his career, Hekker completed 14 of 23 passes for 186 yards and one touchdown with one interception. Dixon completed one of three passes.

Rams kicker Matt Gay attempts a field goal during a preseason game against the Texans at SoFi Stadium.

Rams kicker Matt Gay attempts a field goal during a preseason game against the Texans at SoFi Stadium.

(Kyusung Gong/Associated Press)

Gay is coming off a season in which he made 32 of 34 field goal attempts and was selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time.

“I knew all along that I had this potential,” Gay said. “It was fun just going out there and showing it off and showing that I can do it.

“Now it’s my benchmark.”

Last season, the Rams’ special team units struggled early in the season but improved and played a key role in the Super Bowl run.

“It was a learning experience for me, but I’m just glad they finally started playing together and we went into the second half of the season and then into the playoffs positively,” DeCamillis said. “So I thought it would be a really good testament to how you deal with adversity, and they came out the other end and worked their dicks off, so it was good to see them do that.”

Last November, the Rams added Brandon Powell to the practice squad. Eventually, after rookie Tutu Atwell suffered a season-ending shoulder injury, Powell was included in the roster and emerged as the top punt returner. Powell’s 61-yard touchdown return against the Minnesota Vikings sparked a late-season win in Minnesota.

Atwell continues to practice as a kick returner, but Powell seems entrenched.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/rams/story/2022-09-06/rams-preview-special-teams-riley-dixon-nfl New Rams punter Riley Dixon has some big shoes to fill

Emma Bowman

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