Sometimes it's difficult to know for sure how a new coaching staff feels about the players it inherits.
We're left to differentiate between the various types of praise offered in public: faint, obligatory, unsolicited, etc.
St. Louis Rams assistants Dave McGinnis and Brian Schottenheimer spared us from reading between the lines on a couple potentially key players. Their praise for middle linebacker James Laurinaitis (from McGinnis) and tight end Lance Kendricks (from Schottenheimer) suggests both players figure prominently into the team's plans. That almost had to be the case with Laurinaitis, a rising young player. But after Kendricks struggled some as a rookie, his future under a new staff seemed less certain.
Schottenheimer, formerly of the New York Jets and now the Rams' new offensive coordinator, brought up Kendricks first when a reporter asked about the tight ends in general. This was during the team's recent mandatory minicamp:
“I know one thing, starting with Lance, we really liked Lance back in New York when we looked at him. He's got a chance to be a terrific all-around player."
Kendricks finished the season with 28 receptions for 352 yards. Those figures led all rookie tight ends (Minnesota's Kyle Rudolph was close behind and did have more receiving touchdowns, 3-0). Kendricks also had five dropped passes on 54 targets, the ninth-highest rate among players with at least 50 targets, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
McGinnis' praise for Laurinaitis comes as no surprise. Laurinaitis was well established as a rising young player. But how would he fit in coach Jeff Fisher's specific defense? McGinnis, the assistant head coach and a long-time Fisher associate, answered the question emphatically:
He's perfect. He’s the perfect middle linebacker for this defense. The ultimate linebacker for this defense when it started evolving was Mike Singletary. I was with Mike Singletary for seven years. The quarterback of the defense is the middle linebacker and in this system, he has to be so in tune -- I mean, he has to be right in the defensive coaches' skin. He has to understand it and know it from a lot of different angles.
"We could not have asked for a more perfect middle linebacker to install this system than James Laurinaitis. I remember watching him come out. I interviewed him at the combine when he came out and I loved him then and I love him even more now because he’s exactly what you need."
These sorts of compliments go beyond the obligatory type. They affirm what we thought of Laurinaitis while easing concerns about how well Kendricks might fit one year after the Rams drafted him with former coordinator Josh McDaniels in mind.
These obviously aren't the only players the Rams' new staff likes. They've spoken very highly of Sam Bradford, Chris Long and others. The comments from Schottenheimer and McGinnis did stand out most recently, however.