Byrd Works to Better Blocking
By Nick Wagoner
When the Rams traded back into the third round to acquire USC tight end Dominique Byrd, he instantly became a contender to make an impact on the team’s offense this year.
The news got better on the second day of the draft when the team traded away incumbent starter Brandon Manumaleuna to San Diego. Byrd was the second tight end drafted by the Rams on the first day of the draft after second-round choice Joe Klopfenstein.
With Manumaleuna out of the picture, Byrd went from potential contributor to potential starter. He entered training camp as a co-favorite with Klopfenstein to win a starting job as a rookie.
Now that camp is complete and the preseason is almost over, Byrd finds himself not competing for a starting job, but working to ensure he has a roster spot all together.
“I can't say I'm disappointed, because I had the opportunity,” Byrd said. “I'm just trying to keep going, keep pushing for that spot. I don't think anything's definitely final. Things happen during the season. I just want to be able to step up when I'm called on.”
Although Byrd was competing with Klopfenstein for a starting spot, he doesn’t necessarily play the same position. Byrd is more of a “move” tight end, a position the Rams call the “F” position.
Klopfenstein plays the “Y” position, which is more of an on the line of scrimmage player than the F. Byrd’s job deScription includes going in motion, shifting and lining up in the back field as a type of fullback every once in a while.
Klopfenstein has been joined by veteran Aaron Walker as the team’s top tight ends. Walker has emerged as a surprise in the preseason and is No. 2 on the depth chart. Walker’s and Klopfenstein’s blocking abilities have pushed them ahead of Byrd as he works to become better in that facet of the game.
“He's got great ball skills,” coach Scott Linehan said. “He's got good enough size to play on the line as a tight end. He knows that it's an absolute must that he improves his blocking ability. That's why we spend more time on that area. We know he can be a good receiver. We're working very hard on that as well. But he's got to be a guy that can do both.”
Coming from USC, Byrd is used to being surrounded by good players. He wasn’t even second fiddle in the Trojans’ offense behind the likes of Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart and good friend LenDale White.
But there was never any doubting Byrd’s ability to make plays with his hands. He had a pair of highlight-reel grabs against Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl two years ago and gave fans a glimpse of that pass-catching ability with an 18-yard grab down the sidelines against Houston in the second preseason game.
“That felt good because we were putting ourselves in position to maybe win the game getting down near the goal line,” Byrd said. “I wish I would have been able to dive into the end zone, but the defender jumped on me. It felt good to be out there in the two-minute drill and be able to execute there.”
Byrd got even more repetitions against Kansas City on Saturday night and worked in both tight end positions, even coming up with a nice seal off block for a Tony Fisher gain in the fourth quarter.
For now, Byrd knows that learning to block and compete on the line of scrimmage is the key to his NFL future.
“I have never not felt comfortable with anything,” Byrd said. “Whatever they ask me to be, I am going to do it to get on the field.”
Linehan believes that for Byrd to become a better blocker, he won’t have to focus as much on technique as attitude.
“I certainly know he blocked at USC,” Linehan said. “But we're asking him to master that task. It takes time. There's a lot more to it. I always say that blocking, especially for the guys that play in space, is 90 percent desire and 10 percent technique. I think he's definitely buying into that and knows that's going to be a key for his ability to get on the field for us.”
While Byrd dukes it out with Jerome Collins for the third tight end spot, it seems he has the distinct advantage to win the final tight end roster spot; the Rams could still make a move for a true blocking tight end.
Klopfenstein seems set in his position and Walker has made plays in the passing game in each of the past two games. Alex Holmes are is on the roster, but it seems as though Klopfenstein, Walker and Byrd are the leaders in the clubhouse.
The Rams could search for a veteran blocking tight end after cuts are made, but for now it appears they are ready to go with the youth movement.
“They are still young,” said offensive coordinator Greg Olson. “There are some growing pains there. It’s not from lack of effort, they are just young players right now and they have to get better. They understand that and they know that.”