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Injury a setback for Kendricks ..
BY JIM THOMAS
Friday, November 11, 2011 12:05 am
There was a moment Sunday in Arizona when Lance Kendricks' season flashed before his eyes. Four minutes into the second quarter, Kendricks caught a Sam Bradford pass near the Rams' sideline.
"I caught the ball, turned to run, and my foot was stuck in the grass," Kendricks said. Just then, Cardinals cornerback A.J. Jefferson tackled him from behind. "So as I was turning, my foot was still in the ground," Kendricks said. "I felt it crack."
Kendricks was carted off the field before the end of the half; never a good sign. But further testing and examination showed that his foot wasn't broken. It's a sprain in the mid-foot area. He's expected to miss a game or two, but that's better than the alternative — missing the rest of his rookie season.
"It's coming," coach Steve Spagnuolo said Thursday when asked about Kendricks' foot injury. "He got off the crutches and all that. But it'll be a hard one to get to the game."
It's the latest hurdle for the tight end from Wisconsin, a surprise second-round pick by the Rams last April. During the preseason, Kendricks looked like a star in the making, leading the team in catches (11), reception yards (155) and touchdowns (three).
From Troy Drayton to Ernie Conwell, Roland Williams, Brandon Manumaleuna, Randy McMichael, Daniel Fells, and more, no Rams tight end has caught more than 47 passes for more than 458 yards in a season since the franchise moved to St. Louis in 1995. (Drayton had the 47 catches for 458 yards in '95.)
It looked like that was about to change with Kendricks on the scene. But Kendricks had trouble with drops in the early going, dropping what looked like sure TDs in Game 1 against Philadelphia and Game 4 against Washington.
Kendricks did seem to get more comfortable in the NFL as the weeks progressed, and enjoyed his best game as a receiver in Game 5 in Green Bay with four catches for 71 yards. Included in that day's work was a 45-yard catch and run, which is the Rams' second-longest pass play of the season.
"I try not to put any pressure on myself of trying to do too much," Kendricks said. "I just try to do what I can. I know I'm progressing. I can feel it in practice; it's noticeable."
But following that Green Bay game, Kendricks' role in the passing game decreased. Through five games he was targeted 27 times, trailing only Brandon Gibson (33) and Danario Alexander (31). But in the three games that followed — Dallas, New Orleans, and Arizona — Kendricks had only five passes thrown his way.
That all has translated into modest totals of 14 catches for 182 and no touchdowns for Kendricks midway through the 2011 season. With injuries slowing Michael Hoomanawanui, the expected bonanza of receiving yards at the tight end position has not materialized.
The Rams' tight end corps — a group that also includes Billy Bajema and little-used Stephen Spach — has combined for 26 catches for 303 yards and no TDs. That's less production than last year's group of tight ends, headed by Daniel Fells, which had 35 catches for 312 yards and three TDs through eight games.
Make no mistake, the ball distribution in the passing game has changed since the arrival of wide receiver Brandon Lloyd via trade with Denver. Lloyd has been thrown to 38 times in three games, or just four less than Gibson's team-high 42 times targeted for the season.
So game-planning has contributed to Kendricks' reduced role. And there have been occasions over the past couple of weeks when quarterbacks A.J. Feeley or Sam Bradford wanted to get the ball to Kendricks but couldn't because of the pass rush. Kendricks also points out that on some plays, he's been the problem.
"I can name a few times where I was trying to get open and I didn't get open, but they were looking my way," Kendricks said. "So it goes hand in hand."
Lastly, Kendricks simply may have been getting worn down before his injury.
"We all saw how he shot out there early," coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "He got a lot of reps early. And then Mike (Hoomanawanui) got hurt and we put a lot of things on Kendricks, and I thought he handled it pretty well.
"But in there might have been a little bit of a mini-wall. Him and I talked about that. ... But we haven't lost any confidence in Lance."
From the earliest days of training camp, Kendricks got a ton of reps, rarely leaving the practice field. Hoomanawanui missed several weeks in the preseason and early in the regular season because of a couple of concussions and a calf injury, which added to Kendricks' workload.
Including preseason games, Sunday will be the Rams' 13th game, the equivalent of a full college season for a bowl-bound team. So the dreaded "rookie wall" may have been taking a toll on Kendricks even before the Arizona injury.
"Physically, I can see where that happens because after a while your body starts to (wear down)," Kendricks said. "Because you're used to a college season. Here it's 13 games, and you're just starting to hit the end of the season."
Even so, Kendricks says he still feels mentally fresh. So once he gets his foot healthy, he's hoping to attack the final five, six, seven games of his season — whenever he gets back — with fresh legs.
"Exactly," he said. "It's still a long season."
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