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Rams muscle up using extra tight ends
By Jim Thomas
lAt one point during Sunday’s 34-20 victory over Jacksonville, Lance Kendricks said he turned to tight ends coach Rob Boras and said: “This reminds me of a Big Ten game.”
“Just because it’s run, run, run, run, pass,” Kendricks explained later.
It wasn’t exactly like that, although the Rams did have more rushing attempts (36) than passes thrown (34) — a rarity in today’s NFL. But the game did have a smash-mouth element to it when it came to how the Rams attacked the line of scrimmage.
Namely, they muscled-up with multiple tight end sets. When all was said and done, the Rams used two or more tight ends on 49 of 72 offensive plays against the Jaguars, or 68 percent of the time.
That isn’t what most fans and media observers expected when looking at the 2013 Rams. Not after they selected four wide receivers in the past two drafts, including No. 8 overall pick Tavon Austin last April. But after a 1-3 start in which the Rams had next to no success running the football, the Rams wanted to alter the script against Jacksonville.
“We made a big emphasis on wanting to run the ball, and we did anything we could to do that,” said Kendricks, who played his college ball in the Big Ten at Wisconsin. “So we ran a lot of (extra tight end) personnel. We had an effective game. I think all the tight ends had all-around good games.”
They certainly were on the field a lot. When all was said and done, tight ends Kendricks, Jared Cook and Cory Harkey were on the field for a combined 143 offensive plays. The team’s top four wide receivers — Austin, Chris Givens, Austin Pettis and Brian Quick — were on the field for 147 plays.
“We love for all of us to be in there together,” Kendricks said, speaking of the tight end unit. “It’s fun. Especially when we’re running the ball effectively. We’ve just got to keep that up this week and keep it consistent, and get that ground game going so we can get that pass game going.”
Against Jacksonville, the Rams used formations with two tight ends 33 times. On 16 occasions, the formations included three tight ends. The tight ends weren’t always stationed on the line of scrimmage. On 32 plays, one of the tight ends was in the backfield playing the role of lead-blocking fullback. Sometimes, he was lined up in a classic I-formation in front of the running back. On other occasions, he was offset to the right or left of the running back.
It was all part of coach Jeff Fisher and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s plan to get some balance between the passing game and the running game.
Without a true fullback on the roster, it fell mainly on second-year man Harkey to do the lead-blocking for running backs Zac Stacy, Daryl Richardson and Benny Cunningham. Rarely seen as a Ram other than on special teams, Harkey was in for 29 of those 32 plays when the team had a fullback on the field. Kendricks was in the backfield for the other three fullback plays.
Fisher liked Harkey’s blocking ability when signing him as an undrafted rookie in 2012, although he may not have envisioned it being on display in a fullback-type role.
“He understands it,” Fisher said. “Rob (Boras) has done a real nice job with him, not only out of the backfield but on the line and also as a movement blocking tight end. Cory’s very conscientious. He spends the extra time and he was effective for us in the ball game.”
Harkey couldn’t recall doing much, if any, fullback work at UCLA. But he got some reps there during spring workouts and training camp, in large part because Kendricks was sidelined following offseason knee surgery. After Sunday’s work against Jacksonville, Harkey came away with a new appreciation for the heavy lifting entailed in the position.
“I definitely have a lot more respect for all the fullbacks out there,” Harkey said.
STACY, SAFFOLD RETURN
After sitting out Wednesday practice with rib soreness, Stacy returned Thursday on a limited basis. Stacy said he felt fine; he’s expected to start against Houston.
Right tackle Rodger Saffold (knee) returned to practice for the first time since mid-September. He worked on the scout team Thursday and needs to knock some rust off before he’s ready to play in a game.
Re: Rams muscle up using extra tight ends
It is well established that these days there are fewer FBs in the NFL yet the position is sometimes put into action via a TE. [Remember Ernie Conwell in the GSOT days.]
Harkey, a TE, becomes a big FB for the Rams and I hope he does well as such. Our running game needs a big, effective leading blocker!
I've always liked good, old school fullbacks. But now, essentially ... do whatever it takes.
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