Punter Turk made the right turn

Saturday, December 23, 2006

A drive past Linehan's house in Florida helped him land a job in St. Louis.

ST. LOUIS -- Matt Turk missed last season with a groin injury and was unemployed and living in south Florida. That's when he took an unfamiliar route on the drive home from rehab and happened to drive past Scott Linehan's house.

The chance meeting with the St. Louis Rams' new coach kept the 36-year-old punter's career alive. It also gave Linehan, whose rookie season has been far from ideal, one position with no worries.

"He's certainly been a huge upgrade for us," Linehan said. "He went from a Florida subdivision to NFC player of the week on special teams, and I think that's a great story."

Turk was honored earlier this week after playing a rare starring role in a 20-0 victory over the Oakland Raiders last week. Besides averaging nearly 50 yards on five punts with a 74-yarder that was the Rams' longest since Bob Waterfield's franchise-record 88-yarder in 1948, he had a 16-yard run for a first down on a fake in the fourth quarter.

"I didn't feel too fast," Turk said. "I'm glad it worked out and I was able to get the first down and keep the drive going."

Turk usually turns left at the intersection nearest Linehan's house, but said for some reason he turned right on the day that kept his career going.

"He was walking out of his garage at the exact time I made that right turn," Turk said. "I saw that as a sign. I stopped, pulled up to him and told him I'm working on getting ready and I'll be ready for the season."

If he'd have turned left instead?

"I don't know, maybe I'm on another team," Turk said. "I might be out of work. But I wasn't ready to retire.

"I would be hanging out with the kids and working out, staying ready for that call."

Turk had a season-best net of 48.8 yards against the Raiders. For the season he's averaging 43.5 yards with 25 of his 64 punts inside the 20.

Turk hit his peak with three straight Pro Bowl berths from 1997 to 1999 while with the Redskins, whom the Rams are playing this week. He tied for the AFC lead with 29 punts inside the 20 in 2004 with the Dolphins before the groin injury sustained in training camp knocked him out last season.

He had nine prior career rushing attempts before last week, when he recognized an Oakland defense in full retreat to set up a return and scampered for the first down. He also avoided what appeared to be a certain blocked punt in the third quarter when he faked the start of his kicking motion and then bounced the ball off the turf and back into his arms, running for a 3-yard gain.

The Raiders took over at the St. Louis 36, but Turk felt it was a lot better than the alternative.

"There was no way I would have swung through," Turk said. "I probably would have gotten hurt and the ball would have ended up in the end zone the other way."

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