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Rams release Landeta, sign Stemke

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ Shaky special teams helped cost punter Sean Landeta his job with the St. Louis Rams.

Landeta, 42, is in his 20th NFL season and before being released Friday was one of only two former USFL players still active in the NFL. But he's 31st out of 33 punters in the NFL with a net average of 32.5 yards and was singled out for criticism after a 37-17 loss at Buffalo last week.

I just felt like we needed to make a change,'' coach Mike Martz said.I was with him when he was here before and that's a very, very difficult thing to do. But I just felt like we needed to do it.''

Nobody has punted longer, or farther, than Landeta in NFL history. He's made it to two Pro Bowls in separate decades, 1986 and 1990, earned two Super Bowl rings with the Giants and two USFL championship rings.

He's No. 1 on the career list with 1,371 punts and 59,224 yards, a 43.2-yard average, and is second only to Jeff Feagles with 374 career punts inside the 20. Earlier this season, he was NFL special teams player of the week after punting for a 50.2-yard average, including a season-best 63-yarder.

All of that experience wasn't enough to keep his second tour with the Rams going. He felt he might have been the scapegoat for special teams that rank near the bottom of the NFL in punt returns, kickoff returns and both kickoff and punt coverage.

Another possible change on Monday at Green Bay: defensive end Leonard Little could be used on coverage units.

We've got some young players that are expected to be stellar performers on special teams and they've not done it for us,'' Martz said.We've got to win, so you've got to put your starters out there, as many as it takes to win.''

Against the Bills, Landeta had a 26-yarder in the second quarter and two other punts that ended up yielding long returns came on low line drives. His last game with the Rams was his worst; before that he had been second in the NFC with an average of 43.7 yards.

In recent weeks, though, his hang time had decreased.

I certainly don't think I played poorly enough to be released,'' Landeta said.That's the only thing that bothers you. If I punted real bad I'd be the first one to tell you it's not good, but that's not the case.''

Accordingly, Landeta has no plans to retire.

I wish they'd have done this on Monday if they were going to do it,'' Landeta said.There probably would be a good chance I might have been playing this Sunday.

``I'll try to get signed for the rest of the year, hopefully, and if not try to get ready to play next year.''

Even the man who cut him doesn't doubt Landeta might resurface.

Oh no, he's got plenty left,'' Martz said.He's going to play. He's not done.''

The Rams replaced Landeta with Kevin Stemke, 26, who has two games of NFL experience with the Raiders in 2002. Stemke spent the 2002 offseason with St. Louis and was in the Redskins' training camp this year.

Stemke, who was signed Friday morning after a successful Thanksgiving workout, realized he's replacing a legend.

Has he punted for 20 years? Man,'' Stemke said.Sean's a great punter, he's punted for a long time and he's punted well for a long time.''

Stemke grew up in Green Bay, where his parents still live, not far from Lambeau Field.

``Monday night at Lambeau Field, a kid from Green Bay: that's pretty much a dream come true there,'' Stemke said.

Stemke was in France with his wife Lizzy, a professional volleyball player, when the Rams called earlier this week. After a half-day trip to St. Louis and wearing borrowed shoes, he punted well enough through jet lag to impress the Rams.

Stemke, a left-footed punter, spent part of the 2002 training camp with the Rams. He bounced around for four years following a successful college career at Wisconsin.

The pressure is pretty much off now,'' Stemke said.Either I'm going to make it or I'm not. I'm confident I can do the job and hopefully they're confident enough in me.''

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