Rams special teams coordinator John Fassel, whose nickname is “Bones,” likes to keep his players motivated. And competitive.
“Coach ‘Bones’ likes to keep us on our toes, so he’s always coming up with ways to make things exciting,’’ safety and special teams standout Cody Davis said following a recent practice. “He likes to find ways to keep us engaged and to help create that competitive edge on the practice field and in games.’’
That would explain the championship belt hanging in Davis’ locker these days. Coming off one of his better games as a Ram, Davis currently leads the 500-point club, one of Fassel’s motivational tools.
In the Rams’ 24-10 loss last Sunday to the Packers in Green Bay, Davis, a third-year pro, put a big hit on punt returner Micah Hyde, drew a penalty that wiped out a Packers field goal and caught his first pass since high school.
“It’s hard to say,’’ Davis said when asked if it was his best day in the NFL. “I’ve done pretty well the last couple of weeks, but I also feel like I left some plays on the field. So there’s always room for improvement.’’
Down down 21-10 and facing a fourth-and-2 situation from their own 42, the Rams ran a fake punt that resulted in a 20-yard pass from Johnny Hekker to Davis.
“It didn’t go exactly how we drew it up, but it turned into a scramble drill and Johnny made a great throw,’’ Davis said.
A four-year starter at Texas Tech, Davis signed as a rookie free agent in 2013 and has embraced his role as a special teams leader. A year ago, he finished among the team leaders with 10 special-teams tackles.
“I didn’t play much special teams in college, but I knew that would be a key to me getting a chance in the NFL,’’ the 26-year-old said. “It’s an adjustment, getting into the flow of the game. You’re on the field for the longest plays of the game, but there can be a long time between plays. You have to figure out a way to stay warm and to stay ready.’’
Another Texas Tech product, rookie receiver Bradley Marquez, has also been highly productive on special teams to start the season. He leads the squad in special-teams tackles.
“The coaches have put me in position to be successful, I’ve made some plays and I’ve really enjoyed myself,’’ said Marquez, who said it’s no coincidence that two Red Raiders are near the top of the unit’s production. “Cody’s been a great mentor. We played together a couple of years in college and he’s helped me a great deal. A lot of the older guys have.
“This is a team that takes special teams very seriously and I want to do my part in upholding that. It’s something we all take a great deal of pride in.’’
Like Davis, Marquez hadn’t played a lot of special teams upon arriving in the NFL.
“As your college career progresses, you tend to play less on special teams,’’ said Marquez, 22, who spent two summers as an outfielder in the New York Mets’ organization before deciding to focus on football. “But at least I had some experience, so it was just a matter of catching up.’’
And Marquez has caught on quickly.
“Each year, ‘Bones’ seems to find at least one new guy that has that drive and that desire, and (Marquez) seems to be the one this year,’’ long snapper Jake McQuaide said early in the season. “From day one, he’s busted his butt to buy into what we’re doing and every day, he’s a guy who’s making plays.’’
It was Marquez who recovered Seattle’s onside kick to start overtime in the Rams’ 34-31 season-opening win.
“I’m enjoying all the different responsibilities that go along with playing special teams,’’ he said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given and I’m trying to make the most of it.’’
Packers linebacker Clay Matthews was fined $17,362 by the NFL for a first-quarter hit on Rams quarterback Nick Foles. There was no flag on the play, but upon review of game film the league assessed the punishment for roughing the passer. Early in the week, Rams coach Jeff Fisher said he thought the play should have drawn a flag.
“Clay hit him with crown of his helmet, right in the chest,’’ Fisher said.
Earlier in the week, Matthews told reporters in Green Bay that he wasn’t trying to hurt Foles and that the incident would not change his style of play.
“I play hard. What happens is what happens,’’ said Matthews, who’s earned Pro Bowl recognition five times in six NFL seasons. “I don’t think anybody in this league, hopefully, intentionally goes out to break the rules. ... When you play hard, you have no regrets. ... It’s just a byproduct of playing hard, I believe.’’
• Rams defensive end William Hayes was named “Community MVP’’ for Week 6 by the NFL Players Association for his work with the homeless and disconnected youth.
Jim Thomas of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.