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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Lance Kendricks is Rams' leading receiver

Kendricks finding his groove with Rams

BY BILL COATS

August 30, 2011

Unlike many of the better inner-city athletes in Milwaukee, Lance Kendricks turned down the option of attending high school in the suburbs, where the caliber of football was considerably better.

Kendricks also was seeking a good education, so he stuck it out at King High. The football wasn't great, he acknowledged. "As far as running a real offense similar to a college-style offense, it kind of lacks a little bit," he said.

The academics were top-notch, though. Today, Kendricks holds a degree in sociology from the University of Wisconsin and is two classes short of receiving a second diploma, in economics. Some day, he'd like to dabble in real estate; he loves watching HGTV.

And, oh, by the way, he's off to an impressive start in his NFL career with the Rams.

Asked what he's seen so far of Kendricks, coach Steve Spagnuolo said, "A lot. He's a versatile guy. He's moving around at a lot of different spots. And the other thing, unless I'm missing something, I don't think he's missed a rep of practice. That's a credit to him and the way he prepared himself."

The Rams drafted the 6-foot-3, 247-pound Kendricks in the second round (No. 47 overall) of the draft. He was the second tight end selected, just four spots behind Notre Dame's Kyle Rudolph, who went to Minnesota.

The notion of bringing Kendricks along slowly evaporated when fellow tight ends Michael Hoomanawanui (concussion) and Fendi Onobun (groin) missed time early in camp with injuries. Onobun is back, but Hoomanawanui is out with a calf strain.

"There's been a lot of playbook thrown at" Kendricks," Spagnuolo noted.

"They kind of threw me in there," Kendricks said. "I was able to learn on the job and take a big leap and kind of land on my feet."

Admittedly a bit overwhelmed early in training camp, Kendricks said he's become more comfortable with his duties in new coordinator Josh McDaniels' offense.

"It's definitely getting better," Kendricks said. "The plays are getting more familiar. It's kind of like, 'OK, now I'm getting into the groove of it.'"

The results back that up: After three preseason games, Kendricks is the Rams' leading receiver, with eight catches for 82 yards. He's scored two touchdowns, also a team high.

"We practice so uptempo and so hard, I think by game time it's kind of calmed down," he said. "It's just like practice; nothing's really crazy. I don't really get nervous during the game."

Kendricks played basketball his freshman and sophomore years at King, and twice placed in the state track meet in the triple jump. He chose Wisconsin over Louisiana State and Arkansas despite the Badgers' run-first approach on offense.

At the time, Kendricks was a wide receiver, and he'd observed the success that St. Louisan Brandon Williams and Jonathan Orr were having at wideout for Wisconsin. "They were doing really well," Kendricks said. "So at the time my mind-set was, if I can come and be a big factor as a wide receiver, I can probably make a difference."

He also wanted to stay near home, so that his father, Leon, a retired machinist, his mother, Linda, a secretary in the Milwaukee public schools central office, and his three older brothers, Leon, Landon and Donte, could follow his career closely.

When he was switched to tight end, Kendricks didn't know what to make of it at first. But he became the fourth Badgers tight end in the last five years to be drafted, following Owen Daniels (Houston, 2006), Travis Beckum (New York Giants, '09) and Garrett Graham (Houston, '10).

Kendricks was a consensus All-Big Ten Conference performer as a senior, when he caught 43 passes for 663 yards, the third-highest total in the nation among tight ends.

He also developed into a solid in-line blocker.
"You can't step on the field (at Wisconsin) unless you know how to block," Kendricks said. "A lot of the techniques carry over. I'm glad I'm able to use a lot of that stuff now."

And his background at wideout eased the transition to tight end.

"It helps me a ton," he said. "I can use a lot of what I learned playing wide receiver. And just watching the wide receivers here on film, I can kind of take some of their tools and use them for myself."

So, the shift from Wisconsin to the Rams hasn't been as dramatic as Kendricks might have guessed.

"It's pretty similar," he said. "Here, you also have the mentality of, you have to establish the run first; in that way, it's the same. But also here, it's more creative with the passing game. That's where it gets a little different.

"I'm trying to get adjusted to it, and I think I'm doing a pretty good job so far."

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