NFC West: Lance Kendricks

The free-agent market is scheduled to begin March 11 and teams may begin negotiations with those poised to hit the market beginning March 8. We'll countdown to that with a position-by-position look at what the Rams have in place, who is set to hit the market, what they might need and who might fit the bill.

In place: The Rams spent big money last offseason to bring tight end Jared Cook to St. Louis from Tennessee. Although technically listed as a tight end, Cook was the de facto replacement for Danny Amendola as a super sized slot receiver.

Lance Kendricks and Cory Harkey remain under the team's control for 2014 and join Cook as one of the groups where the Rams seem most settled heading into the offseason.

Pending free agents: Mike McNeill (restricted)

What’s needed: At first glance, the Rams seem to be pretty well set at tight end with the three under contract each bringing a different flavor to the table. Cook will continue as the primary pass receiving threat from the position while Harkey handles in line blocking and fullback duties and Kendricks does a little bit of everything.

However, the big picture beyond 2014 is a little more up in the air. Kendricks is scheduled for unrestricted free agency after 2014 and Harkey will be restricted. McNeill is a favorite of head coach Jeff Fisher and the Rams could likely get him back at the lowest tender number.

Tight end is still far from a pressing need going into the offseason but if the right opportunity presents itself, it's something that could at least earn a second look.

Possible fits: The biggest free agent prize of all is New Orleans' Jimmy Graham but the Rams obviously won't be in that market. Instead, if the Rams wanted to make an addition here it would likely be from the bargain bin. Matthew Mulligan, who was with the Rams in 2012 as a blocking specialist is the type of player who would fit that bill but the Rams replaced him last year and seemed content with Harkey in that job.

Verdict: I don't expect the Rams to make any free agent additions at this position with the possible exception of retaining McNeill on a low tender as a restricted free agent.

Rams-Saints study session: Offense

December, 17, 2013
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ST. LOUIS – Some thoughts and observations on the St. Louis Rams’ 27-16 win against the New Orleans Saints, after reviewing the All-22 film.

  • The story of this game for the offense isn’t much different than what it was on the other side of the ball. This game was won at the line of scrimmage, where the Rams got an outstanding effort from their offensive line, tight ends and fullback Cory Harkey.
  • With the run game sagging like it did the previous two weeks, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and his staff made some tweaks to the run game to get Zac Stacy rolling again. The most obvious fix in this game? Using Stacy outside the tackles. Schematically, the Rams have been using mostly a potpourri of whams with Stacy; he’s gained most of his yards between the tackles. But yardage has been harder to find in that area recently. Getting Stacy outside is made easier with Rodger Saffold back at right guard. The Rams used Saffold on a variety of pulls and wasted no chance to get him out in space to clear out Saints linebackers. Saffold has quick feet and the power to completely wipe out smaller defenders. He was particularly noticeable on a 29-yard run by Stacy early in the game as well as Stacy's 40-yard touchdown run. All of that stuff about Saffold potentially being an elite guard in this league is coming to fruition. Nice job by Schottenheimer putting his players in position to do what they do best.
  • The rest of the line also deserves credit for the run game revving again. Tim Barnes was much better this week at center, Joe Barksdale and Chris Williams were solid and left tackle Jake Long was again extremely effective in the run game.
  • Tight end Lance Kendricks also played a strong role in Stacy’s touchdown run and a number of other solid gains. His acrobatic touchdown catch was icing on the cake on a nice day for him.
  • Stacy continues to impress. I have to admit, I wondered if he could be effective outside the hashes, but he showed a little better speed and quickness of foot than I expected when the Rams got him out in space. His hurdle leading to a 29-yard run showed more athleticism than we’d seen as well. The thing that continues to stand out about Stacy is his patience. He hits the hole but he also allows time for it to develop. That’s an instinctual thing that can’t be taught.
  • Like Kendricks, Harkey had another nice day. His touchdown rumble was well done, though he benefited from some awful tackle attempts, and he was stout as a blocker, per usual.
  • The other thing the Rams did schematically that made a lot of sense was move the pocket and keep the Saints from being able to focus their pass rush solely on the quarterback. Schottenheimer had plenty of bootlegs and play-action in the game plan. That, combined with solid pass protection, kept the Saints from getting much pass rush going.
  • Kellen Clemens had his most accurate day as a passer and was in total control from the beginning. You keep waiting for him to have a streak of five or six misses in a row, but it never happened. When the run game is rolling like it was, Clemens is so much more effective. He did a nice job of standing in the pocket and getting the ball to the right people to keep drives alive. I only noticed Clemens scramble himself into trouble one time against the Saints.
  • For most of the day, the Rams stuck to run-heavy, power formations, with only one or two receivers on the field. But there was little middle ground. They’d go five wide when they weren’t in jumbo ‘22’ packages and spread the Saints out. It helped keep them off balance.
  • Austin Pettis played only 13 snaps, but he made the most of them. He had four catches, three for first downs and played an integral role in keeping early drives alive.
  • Nice sight adjustment by receiver Chris Givens on a 31-yard catch-and-run early in the game. You can clearly see him alerting Clemens to an opening for a quick slant before the snap. That’s a positive sign of growth for Givens, who hasn’t had many of them this season.
  • Tight end Jared Cook didn’t do much in the pass game but had one of his better days as a blocker. He threw a nice block on Harkey’s touchdown and did some good work run-blocking as well.
  • In live action, it was hard to tell whether receiver Brian Quick should have hauled in the deep ball from Clemens that he just missed. It was a nice throw by Clemens; that should be acknowledged. But upon further inspection, it looked like a nice play by Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis, who got his hand in to knock the ball away before Quick could snatch it. Perhaps Quick could have done a little more to get it, and 50/50 balls have been hit or miss for Quick. But it was a nice play by Lewis.
  • The Rams were 7-of-14 on third down, but the key was their ability to get into manageable third-down situations. Five of their seven conversions came on third-and-5 or less, and they actually missed some easier chances when they only needed a yard or two to keep the chains moving.

Lance Kendricks headed toward return

November, 20, 2013
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- St. Louis Rams tight end Lance Kendricks didn't play in the team's final game before last week's bye but it appears that extra week off will allow him to miss just one game because of a fractured finger.

Kendricks returned to practice Wednesday and appears to be headed toward a return Sunday against the Chicago Bears at the Edward Jones Dome. Rams coach Jeff Fisher indicated the only area where Kendricks might be bothered would be catching the ball.

"It’s not an issue blocking," Fisher said. "He’s made some catches, so yeah I’m sure he’ll be fine."

Kendricks was not listed on the team's injury report Wednesday.

On the actual injury report, the Rams were a little thin in the secondary as cornerback Cortland Finnegan (eye) did not practice and safeties Darian Stewart (foot) and Matt Giordano (thigh) were limited participants.

Here's the full injury report from Wednesday:

Did not practice: Finnegan, quarterback Brady Quinn (listed as hip though it was described as lower back Tuesday), guard Harvey Dahl (knee) and running back Chase Reynolds (knee).

Limited participation: Stewart, Giordano

Rams' Kendricks has fractured finger

November, 4, 2013
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams made it through Sunday's 28-21 loss to the Tennessee Titans relatively unscathed with one notable exception. Tight end Lance Kendricks suffered a fractured finger that could cost him some time, coach Jeff Fisher said Monday.

Kendricks
Kendricks suffered the injury on a second-down play in the fourth quarter when quarterback Kellen Clemens threw to him in the right side of the end zone. He left the game immediately after the play.

Fisher said Kendricks' status this week is still up in the air.

"We're just doing some tests right now to see what the best way to go about to either cast it or repair it," Fisher said. "There's a chance that he may miss some time. How much, I don't know."

Regardless of the Rams' approach with Kendricks, he's almost certainly going to need a cast on the finger, but it remains to be seen whether he'll be able to wear a cast that will allow him to continue to play. That cast will make it difficult for Kendricks to catch the ball, though he theoretically could continue to block.

Should the Rams be without Kendricks for any period of time, it will undoubtedly come as a blow to the offense. Kendricks is one of the team's most useful and versatile pieces. He has been a key blocker in the improved run game with Zac Stacy, and has also been a valuable target in the red zone with three touchdown catches on the year.

Since Stacy became the focal point of the offense, the Rams have regularly used two, three and the occasional four tight end set. Mike McNeill stands to get more work if Kendricks is unavailable.

"He's ready to go," Fisher said. "He's been ready to go, he's practicing, (tight ends coach) Rob (Boras) does a good job with him moving him around and things like that. He's prepared to play."
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- When a team is struggling to get anything going offensively like the St. Louis Rams have the past two weeks, it’s easy to point to the offensive line and cast blame solely on the front five.

Make no mistake, the Rams’ line isn’t opening many holes or keeping quarterback Sam Bradford upright consistently, but the blocking blame can easily be spread amongst the others tasked with doing the job.

That includes tight ends, receivers and de facto fullbacks in the run game, and tight ends and running backs in pass protection. To this point, that group simply hasn’t gotten the job done.

[+] EnlargeLance Kendricks
AP Photo/G. Newman LowranceTight end Lance Kendricks says the Rams can improve their blocking with better communication.
For the Rams to get out of their offensive rut, it’s going to fall on the shoulders of everyone on the field, not just a select one or two players. That means doing the dirty work that might normally go under the radar, especially in the running game.

Tight end Lance Kendricks, who proved a solid blocker a year ago, is still working his way back from a knee injury and said he’s just now starting to feel like he’s back in football shape.

That’s a good sign for the Rams, because they ask a lot of Kendricks as a blocker, not only on the edge at tight end, but coming out of the backfield in a fullback role. It’s something Kendricks himself acknowledges.

“It goes for me, too,” Kendricks said. “I obviously haven’t been the best out there. Everybody is trying to be accountable, and I think the past couple days have kind of been a good testament to everyone just being accountable and communicating and doing their job right. We have been trying to flow through practice without any mistakes.”

When asked about the blocking struggles in the first four weeks, Kendricks points to a common point of contention for any team looking to get issues corrected: communication.

Kendricks said there have been multiple occasions where calls have been miscommunicated and led to players taking the wrong assignments. That has allowed defenders to run free to the ball.

Making matters more difficult last week was San Francisco’s 3-4 look, which puts more athletic defenders on the field in the form of linebackers, and can create additional confusion.

“We’ve really been stressing communication and making sure we’ve got the right calls,” Kendricks said. “Everyone here can block. We’ve got good linemen; we’ve got good tight ends that can block. It’s just a matter of communicating, getting the right call out and being on our technique and stuff like that.”

Blocking is the one area that can be difficult to measure without statistical backing. The folks at Pro Football Focus attempt to grade it with anything in the 0.0 range coming in as average, anything negative coming as below average, and anything above coming as a net positive.

According to their grades, the majority of the Rams' offensive line has been pretty solid in the run game. In fact, they have center Scott Wells as the only starting lineman with a negative score in the category (though it’s awfully low at negative-6.1). Their metrics also grade injured tackle Rodger Saffold below average.

Kendricks has the lowest grade amongst Rams in run blocking, and fellow tight end Jared Cook has also struggled mightily in that area. Even if you don’t subscribe to those grading methods, a quick glance at the All-22 film shows those shortcomings.

Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer says the Rams need improvement on the edges, but that applies across the board.

“We certainly have guys that we feel good about on the edges,” Schottenheimer said. “Lance obviously can be a dominant blocker on the edge. Cookie, obviously because of his length can do that.

“It’s not just the edges that we’ve got to do better. It all works together. We hear coach loud and clear, we know that’s something we have got to improve on, and it will help the whole group.”

Kendricks has enough body of work as a blocker that as he continues to knock rust off he should return closer to his usual self. Cook has rarely been asked to do much run blocking in the past, and it would probably serve the Rams well to follow a similar plan.

The Rams need more from their backs and tight ends in passing situations as well. San Francisco linebacker NaVorro Bowman terrorized the Rams running backs last week with two sacks, two hurries and three quarterback hits, most of the time without a running back laying a hand on him.

Schottenheimer shouldered much of that blame, but it’s clear right now the Rams don’t have a back who has established himself as reliable in pass protection.

“Obviously that was an issue,” Schottenheimer said. “I blame myself. I should have made an adjustment after he got us twice. We knew what they were doing; I should’ve got that adjustment made. It’s a hard matchup for any back, and again, he was doing a good job because there’s multiple moves he uses. Certainly there’s things we can get better at but again, I’ve got to take some of that.”

A dozen NFC West spectators to watch

August, 29, 2013
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A look at 12 potential NFC West starters who have played zero preseason snaps heading into their teams' final exhibition games Thursday night:

Arizona Cardinals

TE Jeff King: King started 12 games last season. He could still figure prominently in the two-tight end sets new coach Bruce Arians prefers over using two backs. But with knee trouble preventing King from factoring to this point, the team has yet to get a look at him in game situations. Perhaps that changes Thursday night.

Seattle Seahawks

G James Carpenter: The Seahawks expect Carpenter to make his 2013 preseason debut Thursday night against the Oakland Raiders. Carpenter can still emerge as a starter this season, but he has to stay healthy. The foot injury he suffered recently set him back. The career-threatening knee injury Carpenter suffered as a rookie in 2011 has not been a problem.

TE Zach Miller: Miller is scheduled to make his preseason debut against the Raiders, his former team. The Seahawks want him to get game reps before the regular season. Miller is one of the more valuable role players on the team. Foot trouble sidelined him through training camp. Working him into the offense is a priority.

WR Sidney Rice: The Seahawks will hold out Rice until the regular-season opener. The move appears to be precautionary after Rice underwent a non-surgical procedure to address a knee condition. Coach Pete Carroll: "We know that he’ll be ready unless there’s a setback next week in practice again. He’ll go next week."

DE Cliff Avril: A hamstring injury continues to sideline Avril while calling into question his availability for the opener.

DE Chris Clemons: The Seahawks hope Clemons can return from ACL surgery in time for the regular-season opener. There are no guarantees, but moving Clemons from the active/physically unable to perform (PUP) list to the reserve/PUP list appears unlikely. Players entering the season on reserve/PUP cannot practice before Oct. 15. Clemons will presumably return before that.

WR Percy Harvin: Harvin is on the reserve/PUP list already while recovering from hip surgery. He can resume practicing between Oct. 15 and Nov. 19. Once he resumes practicing, he has 21 calendar days to join the 53-man roster and become eligible for playing in games this season.

San Francisco 49ers

ILB Patrick Willis: Willis is recovering from surgery to repair a broken hand. The feeling is that he could play if the games counted. Until further notice, all signs point to Willis returning for the regular-season opener.

WR Kyle Williams: Williams came off the PUP list early in camp after recovering from ACL surgery. He has also overcome a hamstring injury suffered early in camp. Williams could emerge as the starter opposite Anquan Boldin even though the 49ers have held him out of games to this point.

WR Michael Crabtree: The 49ers already placed Crabtree on the reserve/PUP list while he recovers from a torn Achilles tendon. He's not expected back until late in the regular season. He can resume practicing between Oct. 15 and Nov. 19.

WR Mario Manningham: Manningham is on the reserve/PUP list while recovering from a torn ACL. The same rules framing the timetable for a possible Crabtree return apply to Manningham.

St. Louis Rams

TE Lance Kendricks: Kendricks is coming off knee surgery and is expected to be ready for the regular season. He has alluded to participating in warmups for the Rams' game against Baltimore on Thursday night, but he is not expected to play in the game. Kendricks' versatility is important to a Rams offense that will feature Jared Cook as a receiver.

Rams roster analysis: offense

August, 28, 2013
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Earlier, I posted a breakdown of how the Rams roster could shake out on defense and special teams. To complete the exercise, let's take look at what shape the offense might take after final cuts are made this weekend.

Again, keep in mind that some of this could change based on how things go in Thursday night's preseason finale. But for now, here's my best guess.

QUARTERBACK

Kept in 2012: 2

This year: The only debate here is who will be the backup behind quarterback Sam Bradford. Last year, the Rams kept two in the original round of cuts, letting go of veteran Kellen Clemens. They brought him back after Week 1, making his contract non-guaranteed. Neither Austin Davis nor Clemens has done enough to clearly separate in the competition. It would be logical for the Rams to take the same approach this season should they choose to carry three for the bulk of the season again.

Prediction (2): Bradford, Davis

RUNNING BACK


Kept in 2012: 4

This year: When Terrance Ganaway departed to pursue things other than football, this situation became pretty clear. Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead, Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham will make the roster. The Rams have a Week 1 exemption on Pead because of a suspension, which could potentially buy Chase Reynolds a one-week, special teams reprieve. Fullback Eric Stevens has had some reps with the first team in practice and is the only true fullback on the roster. It seems less likely the Rams will keep one this year, though, given the versatility of their tight ends, but Stevens remains something of a wild card in the mix.

Prediction (4): Richardson, Stacy, Cunningham, Reynolds

Suspension exemption: Pead

TIGHT END


Kept in 2012: 4

This year: The Rams will almost certainly keep four again, and could even go as high as five depending on what they want to do at receiver. Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks are integral parts of the offense, and Kendricks will probably work in the fullback role on occasion. Cory Harkey is also well-positioned depending on the severity of an undisclosed injury he suffered in Denver. That would leave a battle between Mike McNeill and Zach Potter for the other spot. Potter is the better blocker and McNeill is more versatile. The decision will depend on which flavor the Rams prefer for that final tight end spot, or they might even keep both.

Prediction (5): Cook, Kendricks, Harkey, Potter, McNeill

WIDE RECEIVER


Kept in 2012: 6

This year: Five wideouts -- Chris Givens, Austin Pettis, Tavon Austin, Brian Quick and Stedman Bailey -- are essentially locked in here. The question is whether the Rams keep a sixth, and if so, who will it be? Justin Veltung and Nick Johnson are the top contenders for that job. Veltung’s special teams skills would likely earn him the job, assuming the Rams keep six.

Prediction (6): Givens, Pettis, Austin, Quick, Bailey, Veltung

OFFENSIVE LINE


Kept in 2012: 8

This year: The Rams actually carried more linemen into the opener, but had eight on the roster coming out of the initial wave of cuts. This year, they’ll likely keep eight or nine, but it would seem that eight is probably the more likely number again after the cuts are made. From there, the Rams might again be searching for depth on the waiver wire. Jake Long, Rodger Saffold, Scott Wells and Harvey Dahl are in. Chris Williams and Shelley Smith are competing at left guard, and it seems things are leaning Williams’ way for the starting job. Williams stays regardless because of versatility. Joe Barksdale will be the swing tackle. Rookie Barrett Jones will stick as an interior swingman, leaving one spot left. Smith would be the most likely to land the job, but if he doesn’t win the starting spot, it becomes a bit more tenuous because he’s strictly a guard. Tim Barnes is another option, but is probably redundant with Jones.

Prediction (8): Long, Saffold, Wells, Dahl, Williams, Barksdale, Jones, Smith

Total on offense: 25
The NFC West complied with the 75-man roster limit Tuesday by releasing some players and placing others on various reserve lists.

The chart shows how many players each team from the division is carrying by position. Note that figures for defensive lineman and linebacker can be tricky, so a generic "front seven" figure could be more relevant in some cases.

One observation per team:
  • Arizona Cardinals: Injury concerns have led the Cardinals to carry additional players at tight end. Starter Rob Housler suffered a high-ankle sprain and might not be ready for the opener. Veteran Jeff King has not yet played during preseason. The team added Richard Quinn as short-term insurance. Housler and King both passed physicals and have practiced during camp, making them ineligible for the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. Both are expected back sooner than PUP rules would allow, anyway. For now, though, their injuries are creating roster challenges. Guard Jonathan Cooper is also ineligible for PUP. He could go on the injured reserve list with a designation for return later in the season.
  • San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers have 10 wide receivers on their 75-man roster, tied for most in the NFL even after placing Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham on the PUP list. Four or five of their remaining cuts figure to come at that position. The 49ers' wide receivers are the oldest in the NFL by average age thanks to Anquan Boldin (32) and Kassim Osgood (33). If Osgood sticks on the 53-man roster, special-teams contributions will explain why. Boldin, Jon Baldwin, Kyle Williams, Quinton Patton and Marlon Moore would be by picks if the team kept five.
  • Seattle Seahawks: Defensive end Chris Clemons remained on the roster instead of shifting to the reserve/PUP list, another indication the team thinks he could return from knee surgery sooner rather than later. The PUP designation would allow Clemons to resume practicing between Oct. 15 and Nov. 19, but all signs point to Clemons being ready before that. Seattle needs him, too. Bruce Irvin faces a four-game suspension. Cliff Avril has a hamstring injury that could affect his availability for the opener. Keeping Clemons in play for Week 1 makes sense as long as there's a chance he could be ready by then.
  • St. Louis Rams: The Rams are a little heavy at tight end while Cory Harkey recovers from injury and Lance Kendricks gets back to full speed following knee surgery. The Rams' roster appears pretty normal overall. The decisions looming appear straightforward. That could change as the team continues to build its depth.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A week ago there was a chance that the St. Louis Rams could carry as many as five tight ends into the regular season opener against the Arizona Cardinals.

The odds of that happening have probably increased a bit since that time. Blocking specialist Cory Harkey suffered a leg injury in last week’s game against Denver and the Rams released backup Colby Prince on Monday afternoon.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher has not offered much on the extent of Harkey’s injury, but he indicated Monday that Harkey wouldn’t miss extended time.

“We got good news on Harkey,” Fisher said. “That’s all I can say.”

On the bright side, Lance Kendricks is nearing a return from offseason knee surgery and his return should help make up for the loss of Harkey.

Including Kendricks and Harkey, the Rams will obviously keep Jared Cook as well. That leaves three other options -- Mike McNeill, Zach Potter and Philip Lutzenkirchen -- competing for one or two spots.

Of more importance, though, is getting Kendricks up to speed in an evolving offense that he hasn’t been able to participate in at all during the offseason.

The Rams relied fairly heavily on multiple tight end sets in 2012, but the combination of Kendricks and Cook should increase those numbers this year.

Last year, the Rams had 143 rush attempts and 60 pass attempts out of two tight end formations and 12 pass attempts with 29 rush attempts out of three or more tight end sets.

Kendricks is the key to that, though, because of his ability to play attached to the line as a blocker, in the slot as a receiver or in the backfield as a fullback. While Cook brings a play making element to the position the Rams haven’t had in a long time to the position, it’s Kendricks who is the sort of glue guy that can help keep the offense humming.

On Monday, Kendricks participated in some team drills for the first time in this camp though by his own admission it was some light work. By his own admission, the biggest thing for him moving forward will be to get up to speed on some of the offensive tweaks made so the offense can be as multiple as offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer wants it to be.

“Especially with Jared here, things shifted a little bit,” Kendricks said. “Things are just a little bit different. So my role isn’t exactly going to be exactly what it was last year. So learning the new wrinkles and stuff is kind of what I’ve been doing.”

Kendricks said he is unlikely to play this week against Baltimore, though he expects to go through the pre-game routine of warming up. The last hurdle for him will be to get some contact and get back in the flow of actually playing before the Sept. 8 opener against Arizona.

For his part, Kendricks fully expects to be back at full speed for the opener. Having him back in the mix sooner than later could go a long way toward determining the rate at which the offense becomes what the Rams have envisioned.
EARTH CITY, Mo. – With a heavy heart, Rams defensive end Eugene Sims returned to practice Thursday afternoon.

Sims had been gone since after the preseason opener on Aug. 8, attending to the death of his mother, Jeanelle, 42. He returned home to Mount Olive, Miss., to be with his family and for the funeral services, which took place Wednesday.

“It’s been a long week for me,” Sims said. “It’s been real stressful but it’s good to be back with the team, with my brothers, and keep myself busy to try to help myself heal from what’s going on.”

With the full support of his teammates and the organization, Sims took care of what he needed to in Mississippi. He leaned on football while he was away to take his mind off of things, something he said he plans to continue moving forward.

[+] EnlargeEugene Sims
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsRams DE Eugene Sims said he often studied his playbook to take his mind off his mother's death.
The defensive line, a particularly close group within the team, regularly kept in contact with Sims while he was away. End William Hayes called him every day.

When the situation at hand got overwhelming, Sims said he would study his playbook.

“My teammates have been there 100 percent,” said Sims, entering his fourth NFL season. “I have never been around a group of guys like this. They have been positive with me and they keep my head straight. All the coaches have been behind me, the whole organization actually.”

The soft-spoken Sims had something of a breakout year in 2012, becoming an integral part of the defensive-line rotation with 20 tackles, three sacks and an interception.

Getting Sims back in that rotation should help an already cohesive line continue to mesh in advance of the regular season. Of course, it should also provide an outlet for Sims at a time when it’s needed most.

“First day back, it’s good to be back,” Sims said. “I have a lot on my mind, but still at the same time I have business to take care of and I’m going to take advantage of the opportunity and go forward.”

Thursday practice notes

  • The Rams haven’t fully transitioned to regular-season mode but they are on the way. They closed the open portion of the preseason Wednesday night and practiced without the pomp and circumstance for the first time Thursday.

Coach Jeff Fisher said the team would begin moving things up a bit earlier and shift the schedule around before the final preseason game next week.

“The difference between yesterday and today is that we don’t have any evening meetings,” Fisher said. “So we still have a lot of work to do. Typically when you break camp, you move everything up a little earlier and that’s what we’ll do next week.”

  • Offensive tackle Ty Nsekhe returned to practice Thursday after sitting Wednesday because of the flu.
  • Tight end Lance Kendricks (knee) got more work on the side as he continues his comeback. Defensive tackle Jermelle Cudjo was back in uniform but limited Thursday.
  • Offensive tackle Rodger Saffold said he hopes to play Saturday night against Denver as he comes back from a left-shoulder dislocation. He said that decision probably wouldn’t be made officially until closer to the game.

Monday morning Rams notes

August, 19, 2013
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The Rams will get back to work this afternoon as they begin preparations for the third preseason game Saturday in Denver.

Before we look ahead, let’s do a little cleanup work and empty the notebook from the weekend loss to Green Bay and yesterday’s news conference with coach Jeff Fisher.
  • Fisher was pleased with how Joe Barksdale filled in at right tackle against the Packers. That Barksdale played well came as no surprise to Fisher, who made it clear he was comfortable with the third-year tackle soon after presumed starter Rodger Saffold left the preseason opener with a dislocated left shoulder. “I thought Joe was good,” Fisher said. “He hung in there and played well. He played well against the Packers last year in the regular season. I thought he hung in there and played pretty well.”
  • With that said, Fisher said he and the Rams are hopeful that Saffold could return to action as soon as this week. While the additional work has been good for Barksdale considering the Rams’ lack of experience with their offensive line depth, Saffold needs the reps at his new position on the right side. Gaining some continuity with the other projected starters would be a plus, too.
  • It appears that nothing has been fully resolved in the competition for the left guard job at the halfway point of the preseason. Chris Williams started the opener in Cleveland and Shelley Smith got his chance against Green Bay. If that pattern continues, Williams will get the work with the first team offense this week in Denver. The Rams had some success running behind Williams in the opener but Fisher said Smith was “OK” against Green Bay.
  • Tight end Lance Kendricks (knee) and defensive tackle Jermelle Cudjo (foot) came off the physically unable to perform list last week so they could get up to speed in terms of the team walk throughs each day. Both players said they were hopeful that they could get back in time for this week’s game in Denver. Fisher said the pair was “closer” to a return but it remains to be seen if either will be ready to go in time to play the Broncos.
  • Asked about the team’s struggles to get much going in the running game (22 carries for 52 yards), Fisher pointed out that Green Bay loaded the run box with extra defenders for most of the night. It’s an area Fisher said he’s not concerned about, particularly with the first team. Otherwise, he felt like the Packers were doing more with their backups than the Rams were with theirs. “We really didn’t commit to the run,” Fisher said. “It was hard because of what they were doing and what we were trying to do. I’m not concerned about it. We’ve got to get better at it but we didn’t have enough carries in the ball game, as many as we’d like and they kind of forced us out of it from a line of scrimmage standpoint. We wanted to look at the passing game as well. We’ll get back to it this week but the first group I thought did a good job.”
  • The Packers’ game planning and the Rams’ vanilla approach made for some serious struggles for the Rams backup offensive units. Green Bay regularly brought blitzes and the backup group struggled to pick those up. It made life particularly difficult for Kellen Clemens and, to a slightly lesser extent, Austin Davis.
  • Speaking of Clemens and Davis, nothing seems to be settled in the team’s competition for the backup duties behind starter Sam Bradford. Clemens struggled mightily against Green Bay and Davis did the same until a final drive resulted in a touchdown pass with about a minute to go. Like with left guard, the Rams have been alternating between Davis and Clemens behind Bradford. That will continue this week. “We will go back to Austin this week as a two and Kellen will be a three and we’ll continue to evaluate them,” Fisher said.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Rams tight end Lance Kendricks estimates that he’s about two weeks from returning to practice from a torn meniscus in his knee.

But when the Rams opted to take Kendricks (along with defensive tackle Jermelle Cudjo) off the active physically unable to perform list Tuesday afternoon, it served as a reminder of how important a cog he is to their offense.

“If you’re on active PUP you’re really not permitted to do anything with the team, so we felt like both of them are getting closer,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “So, take them off and that way they can at least participate in walk-throughs and get the benefit of walk-through reps. So, that’s where we are. Neither one of them is ready to come out and practice yet, but we just want to take advantage of the walk-through reps, and that’s what we’ve done.”

[+] EnlargeLance Kendricks
AP Photo/G. Newman LowranceRams tight end Lance Kendricks plans to be used in a variety of roles again this season.
The timing of the move makes sense considering the preseason is nearly halfway through. It’s around this time of training camp where teams begin installing game plans for the opener, and Kendricks figures to play a large role in how the Rams approach things offensively.

Even with the addition of Jared Cook in the offseason, the chance to pair the athletic, downfield-oriented Cook with the versatile skills of Kendricks would seem to be a likely staple in the offense.

“That’s huge,” quarterback Sam Bradford said. “That’s really big for us. I think it’s going to be really exciting to see Kendricks and Cook on the field at the same time. When we go ‘12’ (personnel set) with those two guys out there, there is a lot of speed on the field. And obviously everyone knows Lance’s ability to catch, but also to be a very good blocker in the pass game and in the run game. So, it’s going to be exciting. It’ll be interesting to see just all the things we can do with those two on the field together.”

Kendricks was one of the Rams’ busiest players in 2012, his second season in the league. After bouncing back from a rough rookie season plagued with drops, Kendricks took a step forward in his second season.

Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer clearly appreciated what Kendricks brought to the table, and by the end of the season Kendricks had played 80.7 percent of the team’s snaps, fifth among offensive players and third among returning Rams.

Kendricks’ involvement in the offense varied in many ways as he lined up attached to the line, in the backfield as a de facto fullback, in the slot, and just about any other way you could think of to use a tight end.

According to Pro Football Focus, Kendricks nearly split his time evenly between running routes and run-blocking. All told, he ran 407 pass routes, served as a run-blocker 394 times, and pass-blocked 74 times.

Upon his return, Kendricks fully expects to continue to serve as a sort of Swiss Army Knife for the offense.

“It will be very similar to last year, playing in the backfield, point of attack as far as runs like always,” Kendricks said. “And I’ll get my share of routes, too, just like everybody else, but like you said, there’s a lot of balls to go around.”

Somewhat quietly, Kendricks improved his pass-catching in 2012 with 42 catches for 519 yards and four touchdowns. In the process, he chopped his dropped passes from nine to five and seemed to clear whatever mental hurdle hampered his hands as a rookie in 2011.

Although Kendricks wasn’t sure what type of tight end Cook was when the team signed him, Kendricks said the duo has developed an easy rapport where they help each other out.

“Obviously there are a lot of different types of tight ends,” Kendricks said. “It turns out he’s a great downfield threat and all around good player. So just being next to him will be a plus for me.”

Before that happens, Kendricks has to complete his recovery from the knee injury that kept him out of Organized Team Activities and training camp thus far. He suffered the meniscus tear while working out in the team’s indoor facility just before OTAs began.

When Kendricks went to have the knee scope, the medical staff discovered the issue was more serious and he had a complete meniscus repair.

Watching the Rams' offense begin anew during this camp has been difficult for Kendricks, who has regularly had to remind himself to not push too hard for fear of re-injury.

“It can be frustrating, but it’s a long healing process,” Kendricks said. “The main thing is to let it heal correctly so I don’t have to do it again. It’s pretty much fully healed now. I’m just trying to take it day by day and just get back into shape and be ready for Game 1.”

In the meantime, Kendricks considers himself fortunate to be returning to an offense he knows well after playing such a prominent role in 2012. He’s been a regular in meetings and followed along closely in practice to ensure he’s as up to speed as possible as the offense evolves in his absence.

“It’s been great watching these guys run around, and it’s motivation for me to get back out there,” Kendricks said. “I have been doing as much as I could up until now. Now I am able to do a little bit more.”
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher said what he wanted to say in regards to comments made by Cleveland Browns color analyst Bernie Kosar on Saturday when he let it be known he was disappointed in Kosar’s pointed words for Fisher’s players and coaching staff.

When asked about the incident again Monday, Fisher acknowledged that he received a call from Kosar, who apologized for his words. Most of Kosar’s ire was directed at the Rams’ receiver corps and, especially backup quarterback Kellen Clemens.

Fisher had nothing more to offer on the subject Monday afternoon.

“It’s a dead issue,” Fisher said. “It’s all behind us.”

On Saturday, Fisher made it clear that he didn’t care much for Kosar’s idea of commentary. Browns CEO Joe Banner issued a statement Sunday reprimanding Kosar for his comments and issuing an apology to Fisher and the Rams.

“We don't condone the personal and unprofessional approach that Bernie took with some of his comments during the broadcast Thursday night,” Banner said in the statement. “We’ve spoken to Bernie, he understands that, and we would expect the situation is resolved moving forward. We’ve also reached out to the Rams organization and have shared those same sentiments."

Clemens, who took most of the brunt of Kosar’s words didn’t have much to add to the mix when he was asked about it Monday.

“After five years in New York, it wasn’t that big of a deal,” Clemens said.

Clemens played for the Jets from 2006 to 2010 and was often the target of criticism there. Clemens said he and Kosar had no history together that Clemens could recall.

Monday Practice Notes

• Missouri governor Jay Nixon attended the first half hour of practice or so before rain chased him and his entourage off. Nixon is expected to have a hand in helping the state work toward a deal to help keep the Rams in St. Louis.

Monday’s visit to the practice field had nothing to do with that, however. Nixon and Fisher conversed for a bit before practice as Fisher joked that Nixon offered some tips.

“He had a lot of good ideas,” Fisher said. “It’s not out of the realm of possibility that he’ll make a few calls for us at some point. In the preseason.”

• Rookie receiver Stedman Bailey had another strong practice in what is now turning into a long line of them. He was essentially perfect in one-on-one drills and continued to get open and catch everything thrown his way in team drills. It remains to be seen if he can do it against the top corners but he’s having his way with the backups on a regular basis.

• To balance out Bailey’s success, Rams safety Rodney McLeod had a strong practice. He got beat early in one-on-one drills but bounced back with textbook coverage on his next three repetitions. He capped it off with in an interception in 7-on-7 work.

• The busiest man in Rams training camp right now? Offensive lineman Chris Williams. With tackles Rodger Saffold (shoulder) and Sean Hooey (ankle) not practicing, Williams' role has expanded beyond taking repetitions with the first team at left guard. He is working behind Joe Barksdale as a backup at right tackle and even got some reps with the first team at left tackle to help spell starter Jake Long on Monday. Barrett Jones also continues to get work as Barksdale’s understudy at right tackle.

• Safety Matt Giordano, Hooey, Saffold, tight end Lance Kendricks, defensive tackle Jermelle Cudjo and defensive ends Eugene Sims and Sammy Brown did not participate. Brown watched practice with his left foot in a walking boot after he attempted to get back into the practice mix on Saturday.

• Defensive back Quinton Pointer did not finish practice.

• Running backs Terrance Ganaway and Zac Stacy both returned to the practice field in pads but in different roles. Stacy did work in most of the day’s drills while Ganaway seemed to stick to just working on the side.

• With so much attrition at offensive tackle, the Rams brought in another player Monday in D.J. Young, a second-year player out of Michigan State.

The St. Louis Rams should be looking over their shoulders. Significant injuries are striking every other team in the division, but so far, the Rams have come out mostly OK, save for Lance Kendricks' situation predating camp.

Bernie Miklasz has some thoughts on that from a Rams perspective in his daily video report for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The Seattle Seahawks recently lost Percy Harvin to season-altering and perhaps season-ending hip surgery. The San Francisco 49ers, having already lost receiver Michael Crabtree for the season, lost cornerback Chris Culliver to a torn ACL. Linebacker Patrick Willis is also hurting with a broken hand.

Meanwhile, in Arizona, the Cardinals will find out whether nose tackle Dan Williams suffered a serious knee injury in practice Thursday. Reports suggest a teammate landed on the back of Williams' leg during a pileup. Williams was a first-round pick in 2010 and a projected starter this season.

We've debated in recent months which team appears best positioned to win the NFC West in 2013. The injury Crabtree suffered during organized team activities highlighted the role injuries play in such matters. From that point forward, I felt as though Seattle and San Francisco remained the favorites, with injuries likely to prove decisive. The Seahawks and 49ers were quite healthy until late last season.
Vernon Davis took no snaps on the perimeter and just one from the slot during San Francisco 49ers practice Tuesday.

Davis
The subject is of interest after Davis, a career tight end, suggested he would be working with wide receivers. The truth is that Davis will remain a tight end even if he does line up in the slot or outside the numbers a little more frequently.

Davis has averaged 19.0 yards per reception, tops among tight ends over the past two regular seasons and playoffs, when lined up in the slot or outside the yard-line numbers, according to Doug Clawson of ESPN Stats & Information. He has six touchdowns on these plays, including four during the playoffs after the 2011 regular season. He caught seven passes on seven targets for 259 yards on those plays.

For perspective, I've put together a chart showing 2012 regular-season reception totals for prominent NFC West tight ends, broken down by whether the player lined up wide, in the slot or as an inline tight end.

Jared Cook, formerly of the Tennessee Titans and now with the St. Louis Rams, caught a high percentage of passes from the slot. These tight ends caught very few of their passes after lining up as wide receivers outside the yard-line numbers. I don't think Davis is going to suddenly start operating from that area regularly. Doing so would essentially remove him from the running game while making it tougher for him to motion into the formation.

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