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Countdown to Camp 2016 - Tight Ends

Posted Jul 24, 2016

In the fifth edition of Countdown to Camp, team insider Myles Simmons breaks down Los Angeles' tight ends.

We’re now six days away from the Rams kicking off training camp at UC Irvine, and in today’s edition of Countdown to Camp, we’re looking at the team’s tight ends. Be sure to submit your question about tomorrow’s position group, safeties, either on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments below.

TIGHT ENDS

Newcomers: Tyler Higbee, Temarrick Hemingway, Benson Browne

There have been some key changes to the Rams’ tight ends room for 2016, starting with the coach. With Rob Boras’ promotion to offensive coordinator, Los Angeles hired John Lilly to lead the position group. Lilly has spent nearly the last two decades in the college ranks, coaching tight ends at Florida State from 1998-2007 before moving over to coach TEs at Georgia from 2008 to 2015.

Lilly said during OTAs his goal is to continue to build on the foundation Boras had laid the last four years under head coach Jeff Fisher. And he’ll do that with a group that has an equal mix of rookies and veterans.

Lance Kendricks has the potential to emerge as a significant target this season, an opportunity he’s embracing. He’s been an important cog in the Rams’ offense in the past, particularly in the red zone. The Wisconsin product leads the team in touchdown receptions over the last three years. As is well known, a good receiving tight end can be a kind of security blanket for a young quarterback. The Rams will likely need Kendricks to fill that role this year.

Many of Cory Harkey’s contributions don’t show up in the box score, but he’s one of the heart and soul members of the team. He often serves as the lead blocker out of the backfield for running back Todd Gurley, and is also on many of the club’s special teams units. Fisher has said the Rams’ offense will be based around Gurley, which means Harkey will likely be integral to its success.

Of course, Los Angeles drafted two tight ends in this year’s draft, both of whom could turn into solid options at the position. According to Fisher, Higbee could even emerge early on in the season. The tight end checked in at the NFL Combine at 6-foot-6, 249 pounds. He caught 38 passes for 563 yards and eight touchdowns in his final year at Western Kentucky.

Hemingway is a bit more raw offensively, but Fisher said he could be one of the most productive special teams players the Rams have in 2016. The tight end said he played on every STs unit but kickoff at South Carolina State.

Also at tight end, the Justice Cunningham returns after bouncing between the Rams’ active roster and practice squad over the past few years. And the club signed Benson Browne (North Carolina State) as an undrafted free agent.

QUESTION OF THE DAY

Well, I think the first thing to remember here is that even if Jared Goff ends up as the Rams’ starting QB, he won’t only be throwing to rookies. While Higbee has the potential to play sooner than later, Kendricks will likely remain the primary option. The Rams have employed plenty of two tight end sets over the past few years, anyway.

But thinking about young QBs and young TEs, I tried to think of a few good, recent comparisons from around the league. The first that came to mind was Andrew Luck, Dwayne Allen, and Coby Fleener, who were all rookies with the Colts in 2012. Fleener had played with Luck at Stanford, but Allen was the primary TE target that year. He caught 45 passes on 66 targets for 521 yards and three touchdowns. Fleener received 48 targets, making 26 receptions for 281 yards and two TDs.

Now, the Rams’ offense is not going to run as the Colts’ offense did in 2012 for a variety of reasons — the most significant has the name “Gurley.” But there are some other recent rookie QBs who’ve played with young TEs — Derek Carr and Mychal Rivera, or Jameis Winston and Austin Seferian-Jenkins for instance — and have been able to garner decent success.

Still, I think it’s important to remember that every player and every system is different. I do think the Rams’ tight ends will be significant reasons for the offense’s success. But we’re not going to have a real idea of how that’s exactly going to look until we get a few weeks into the season.

Thanks for the question, David. Hope the answer was satisfactory — had to think about that one a bit. If you’ve got a Q for our next position group, safeties, be sure to send it over on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments below.

PREVIOUSLY ON COUNTDOWN TO CAMP

July 20 - Special Teams
July 21 - Linebackers
July 22 - Wide Receivers
July 23 - Cornerbacks