Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Rookie Boots Zendejas out of Job with Rams

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Rookie Boots Zendejas out of Job with Rams

Article excerpt

Steve McLaughlin's favorite Pet the Fish song is entitled "Graciously Waiting."

It won't be a long wait.

Pet the Fish, the alternative rock band for which McLaughlin sings and plays backup guitar, is breaking up. But McLaughlin's National Football League career is just beginning. In a big way.

What shaped up as the Rams' most heated training camp battle is over before it even started. McLaughlin, a rookie from the University of Arizona, is being handed the team's place-kicking job over veteran Tony Zendejas.

Zendejas, a 10-year National Football League veteran, was asked not to participate in either the team's May minicamp or the one this weekend at Rams Park.

Technically, Zendejas remains under contract with the Rams and is on their active roster. But he could be released any day.

Asked if there was any chance Zendejas would be with the team in St. Louis, coach Rich Brooks said: "It's not very probable. What I've basically done is told Tony that we want to make this happen."

That is, have McLaughlin handle the place-kicking.

"In fairness to Tony and his agent, we want to give him time to see if he can get himself hooked up with somebody else before we put him on the street," Brooks said. "There's no sense putting him on the street if he has nowhere to go. If he doesn't have something, there's always the possibility that he'll be in training camp."

Neither Zendejas nor his agent, Marvin Demoff, could be reached for comment. Zendejas has been one of the more accurate place-kickers in NFL history. His 74.4 percent career field goal accuracy ranks 13th.

He once made a league-record 11 consecutive field goals from 50 yards or more. In 1991, his first season with the Rams after six years in Houston, he made all 17 field-goal attempts - another NFL record.

But at 35, he's not getting any younger, which means his leg's not getting any stronger. He struggled late last season, with two attempts blocked and a 33-yard miss in the Rams' final three games.

Rules changes last year in which kickoffs were moved back to the 30-yard line from the 35 and the tee was lowered to 1 inch didn't help, either.

"I think Tony was at the point in his career where kickoffs weren't his strong point," Rams general manager Steve Ortmayer said.

But there is more to it than production.

"Tony probably was going to kick only one more year anyway," special-teams coach Wayne Sevier said. "And he's from here. He's got a restaurant here and all this."

So barring a Lazarus-like comeback, the Zendejas era is over. The McLaughlin era, however long that may be, is about to begin in St. Louis.

Not that anyone in the Rams' organization has pasted a sign over McLaughlin's locker reading: You 'Da Man.

"They haven't really talked to me about the specifics of that," said McLaughlin, who brought his guitar to minicamp. …

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