Friday, November 30, 2012

Kendricks Filling Many Roles

November 30, 2012

By Nick Wagoner

Unsure if he was even going to play because of a knee injury that limited him in practice last week, Rams tight end Lance Kendricks not only played but contributed in important fashion to the team’s win against Arizona.

Included in Kendricks’ performance was a 37-yard touchdown catch in which he got open over the middle and delivered a vicious stiff arm to safety Kerry Rhodes as he rolled to the end zone for his second career touchdown catch.

That was it for Kendricks in terms of his contribution in the aerial attack but right now, it’s everything he’s doing, especially as a blocker, that has coach Jeff Fisher excited about his progress.

“He’s really improved,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “He’s very, very strong at the point of attack. That’s why we’re using some of the wham blocks on the defensive linemen. He’s very effective there. He’s getting open. He’s completing the catch and he’s running after the catch, so it’s good to see him progressing like that.”

With injuries all along the offensive line early in the season, Kendricks’ role as a blocker has expanded while he hasn’t been as prominent as a receiver. He embraced that role and provided a solid blocker attached to the line of scrimmage.

In recent weeks, Kendricks has showed his versatility by moving into the backfield and working as a de facto fullback capable of lead blocking when necessary.

Checking in at 6’3, 243 pounds, Kendricks doesn’t necessarily look the part of a dominant blocker but his strength more than makes up for what he lacks in size. Combine that with his willingness to do whatever it takes to be on the field and Kendricks is the offense’s premiere Swiss Army Knife right now.

“I have embraced it,” Kendricks said. “Each week is different and I take on different challenges and different roles but I do a lot of things from the backfield but I take it as it comes and I try to excel in it so I can do something better and have a different challenge every week. I don’t mind playing fullback and lining up in the backfield.”

For Kendricks, his more recent turn as a fullback isn’t uncharted territory. In college at Wisconsin, Kendricks played under offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, who actually employs a system similar to the one used by Rams offense coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.

Kendricks didn’t do much of it in last year’s offense but it’s been a bit like riding a bike for him as he gets used to being in the backfield again.

As evidence of that, Kendricks even goes so far as to say that he would take a powerful block – like the one that sprung running back Steven Jackson for a touchdown against San Francisco – as quick as he’d take a touchdown catch like the one from last week.

“It’s about the same,” Kendricks said. “If you do a good job at the point of attack, especially on running plays, I think that’s just as noticed as a touchdown or something like that.”

Because of Kendricks’ extended work as a blocker, he hasn’t been as involved in the passing game but that could change over the season’s final five weeks.

Buoyed by an offensive line that may not need as much help now that the original starting five is working together for the first time since the season opener, Kendricks believes he could be more of a threat in the passing game, especially when his knee is fully healed.

“I think each week as we get guys healthy, we got Scott (Wells) back last week, that opens up opportunities for me to maybe make some more plays down the field such as the one last week and hopefully more to come,” Kendricks said. “I was a little limited last week because of the knee so I really couldn’t get as involved in the passing game as I would have liked. Hopefully this week I will be feeling better and I can run a few more routes.”

No matter how the Rams choose to use him, Kendricks is in a far different place than he was a year ago as a rookie. Brimming with belief that he can be an impact player in the league on a consistent basis, he believes he’s starting to round into the type of all around tight end that winning teams all seem to have.

“I think I’m in a good place,” Kendricks said. “I have a really good understanding of the offense and what we try to accomplish every week. I think I am a lot more confident mentally and I think I am better prepared in general this year than last year.”

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