Apart from all of the praise that has been showered on him for his performance so far in this training camp, there’s one title rookie tight end
Nearly a week and a half into this training camp, Kendricks has been dubbed the hardest working man in show business for what seems like his near constant participation in drills during practice.
One minute he’s line up out wide catching passes, the next he’s in the slot running down the seam for a long catch, the next he’s moving into the backfield and busting a linebacker’s head to open up running room for a running back.
No matter where you look on the field, it seems Kendricks is everywhere.
“Lance has done some great things,” quarterback
Taken with the Rams’ second round pick in April’s draft (No. 47 overall), there were some that questioned the team’s selection of a tight end. It wasn’t anything against Kendricks so much as it was a perceived need to take someone at a different position, namely wide receiver.
But the Rams viewed Kendricks as the type of multi-purpose weapon that could excel right away in offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ offense. They viewed him as one of the top three pure pass catchers in the draft, regardless of position and they knew he was a much better blocker than perhaps his 243-pound frame might indicate.
So far in this camp, Kendricks has proved to be one of the team’s most must-see players. It’s no coincidence that he’s already taking the majority of his repetitions with the first-team offense.
Working with that group has certainly helped speed up Kendricks’ learning curve.
“For a young guy that hasn’t had a lot of reps in the system, and he didn’t have the benefit of the OTAs, I think he’s picked it up pretty good,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “He’s probably had the advantage of being with that first group for quite a bit, so you’re working with Sam, you’re working with Steven (Jackson), and I think that helps because you have a lot of guys next to you doing things right. I think he’s been pretty solid so far.”
On Tuesday, Kendricks had what he believed was one of his best practices which for a rookie would normally be a profound statement. But Kendricks has been impressing teammates, coaches and fans alike almost from day one.
The main objective in adding Kendricks was to give the Rams a dynamic pass catching threat who could work the middle of the field, abusing smaller safeties with his size and blowing past overmatched linebackers with his speed.
Originally recruited to play wideout at Wisconsin, Kendricks’ frame allowed him to grow into a hybrid tight end role for the Badgers. He didn’t get many opportunities as a pass catcher until his senior year but he burst on the scene with 43 catches for 663 yards and five touchdowns in his final college season on his way to being named a finalist for the John Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end.
Kendricks has taken quickly to his receiving duties in McDaniels’ offense, showing his speed and hands consistently, including a long touchdown catch in Tuesday’s practice where he split a pair of safeties and outran everyone to the end zone.
“I think I went out there and made probably one or two mental errors but I think I am beginning to play a little faster and more confident and I’m just trying to take advantage of it,” Kendricks said.
Considering the reputation of Wisconsin for running the ball as options one, two and three, Kendricks’ blocking was oddly labeled as an area he needed to work on coming into the NFL.
But you can’t play tight end for the Badgers without being a tenacious blocker. Kendricks blocked for three 1,000-yard rushers last season alone. He’s even found himself asking to take on bigger and stronger defensive linemen in certain blocking drills.
“I love coming out here and blocking,” Kendricks said. “We did a run drill where one of the D ends came down and said ‘No, no, I want a lineman,’ I was like, ‘what’s up? I want to go.’ I ended up going against a linebacker. I love blocking. It’s that tough mentality, I love it.”
So far in this camp, Kendricks has proved to be not only a willing blocker but at times a devastating one.
When the Rams are in full pads and go to the “Ram drill” which is essentially the Oklahoma drill where a blocker and a defender go one on one with a ball carrier behind the blocker, Kendricks made an early impression on many of his teammates.
“He was in my line and the first time he went he absolutely destroyed his defender,” Bradford said. “I think two guys later we were looking for someone on offense and he came running back up to get some more. Its things like that, that really turn you on to a guy like that.”
The process of getting Kendricks up to speed has been as smooth as with any rookie on the roster. Because everyone on the offense is learning a new system, Kendricks has had the benefit of learning with his teammates as opposed to trying to catch up.
Making his early performance more impressive is the fact that he’s been asked to do so much. Kendricks wasn’t brought in to do a lot of in line blocking but he’s found himself lined up in line, split out wide, in the slot and in the back field.
Such is life for a “move” tight end.
“I am real comfortable with that,” Kendricks said. “I did a lot of it in college so I am used to motioning around, doing some things here and there so it’s kind of what I’m used to. But at the same time I have to get adjusted to the names of the motions and all the different language and everything.”
Kendricks is well aware that he’s got a ways to go before he’s fully immersed in the offense, especially considering the amount he’s being asked to do.
The workload might seem like a lot for a rookie, especially one who didn’t have the usual OTA’s and minicamps to get adjusted. In fact, before Kendricks arrived for training camp, his only experience in the offense was working with Bradford and Co. at some player-organized workouts over the summer.
With each passing day, though, Kendricks believes things are coming more natural and it’s starting to really show off in his performance.
“I think (yesterday) I went out there and made probably one or two mental errors,” Kendricks said. “But I think I am beginning to play a little faster and more confident and I’m just trying to take advantage of my opportunities.”