Halloween may be over, but the tricks are bound to keep coming Sunday.
At least that’s what the 49ers expect from Rams special teams that have turned chicanery into an art form since coach Jeff Fisher and coordinator John Fassel arrived in 2012.
“I think you guys know us,” Fisher said this week. “We’re going to try to win ballgames however we can. If it means doing something a little unconventional in that phase of the game, then so be it.”
The Rams’ best weapon when it comes to misdirection has been punter Johnny Hekker, whose arm has been as dangerous as his leg.
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Hekker, who played quarterback in high school, has completed 5 of 6 passes on fake punts, including a dramatic one in Week 7 that helped beat the Seattle Seahawks and two in a 2012 game against the 49ers.
One of Hekker’s passes against San Francisco two years ago was thrown from his own goal line and gained 21 yards, proof of how brazen Fisher and Co., can be.
Fisher said Hekker regularly throws passes in Rams practices and is a de facto quarterback during seven-on-seven drills early in the sessions.
Hekker also is familiar to 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, whose son, Jay, roomed with Hekker at Oregon State when Jay was a student assistant with the Beavers’ football program.
“You’ve got to take everything into account and be really thinking,” Jim Harbaugh said. “Punt return – you have to know who the eligible (receivers) are. ... John Fassel does a great job. Coach Fisher, he’s a willing participant in all these fakes. I give them a lot of credit. They’ve done a fabulous job.”
In their most recent meeting on Oct. 13, the 49ers thwarted a fake punt by the Rams on fourth and 15 from their 27-yard line. The Rams’ offense appeared to be walking off the field, but quarterback Austin Davis never quite made it to the sideline, instead lingering just short of the boundary so he could receive a surprise pass from the punter.
The 49ers’ Chris Cook noticed Davis and went over to cover him, which forced Hekker to take a delay-of-game penalty.
Davis said the play was more complicated than it looked. He could be near the sideline but couldn’t step out of bounds and come back into the field of play. He also had to be off the ball or risk a formation penalty.
Some acting was involved, too. Davis had to walk the fine line between seeming frustrated that the offense failed to convert on third down and nonchalant to avoid drawing attention.
“Their cornerback did a good job of checking the sidelines before he left,” Davis said. “He almost – he almost – left me. … I was really disappointed that I didn’t get a chance (for a reception). That was a fun play, and I was hoping to get a chance to run down the sidelines and then get out of bounds.”
Decision soon on McDonald – Prosecutors will decide soon on the case involving defensive end Ray McDonald and are leaning against charging him with domestic abuse, according to the San Jose Mercury News.
The case may be undermined by evidence that McDonald’s fiancée has been the aggressor in the relationship, including a May incident in which she drew a handgun on McDonald following an argument. The Aug. 31 incident at which McDonald was arrested occurred at a birthday party attended by numerous teammates.
The 49ers likely have spoken with those teammates, and they felt McDonald did nothing that warranted being benched. He has participated in every practice and played in every game since then. Both the 49ers and the NFL have said they will let the legal process play out before taking action.
Willis questionable – Patrick Willis called himself a game-time decision for Sunday’s contest against the Rams.
The 49ers inside linebacker has practiced in a limited fashion throughout the week but said he is still experiencing pain in his left big toe.
“I can’t lie and say I don’t feel anything, that it feels amazing,” Willis said. “But it’s one of those things you have to work through. It could bother me the rest of the season; it could go away.”
Willis strained the muscle in the toe Oct. 13 against St. Louis and missed the following week’s game against the Denver Broncos. Rookie Chris Borland filled in and will do so in Sunday’s rematch if Willis can’t play. Willis and cornerback Tramaine Brock (toe) are listed as questionable on the 49ers’ injury report.
Lattimore rests – The only 49er who did not practice Friday was running back Marcus Lattimore, who went through his first practices of the season on Wednesday and Thursday. Harbaugh said only that Lattimore, who is coming back from reconstructive knee surgery in 2012, “hung back” in the training room but would not divulge what caused the running back to miss practice.
Asked if soreness was expected after two years of no football contact, Harbaugh said, “We’ll see exactly what it is and hope to have more information for you.”
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.