The St. Louis Rams had a very shaky offense last season. The unit was the 10th worst in the league, and that was largely due to injuries and inexperience. Sam Bradford’s main receiving threat, Danny Amendola, missed five games with a dislocated clavicle.
Receiver Brian Quick, the team’s second-round pick in 2012, clearly wasn't ready to make any meaningful contributions, and the running game consisted of Steven Jackson with not much after that. Daryl Richardson showed signs of being a quality No. 2 at best, but the competition for the starting back is wide open heading into training camp.
This year, Amendola and Jackson are gone, and Quick is the fourth wide receiver on the depth chart. Rookie Tavon Austin brings electricity—maybe even more so than Amendola had when he was healthy.
And then, hidden in the shadows for most of the offseason, are the two tight ends: free-agent acquisition Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks, who started all but two games for the team last season.
All the hype seems to be circling around Austin, the running back competition and Sam Bradford. But these two tight ends will play a monumental role in the offense in 2013.
Simply put, Cook is a monster. At 6'5", 248 pounds, Jeff Fisher knows from his time coaching Cook in his first two NFL seasons with the Titans that he is a versatile player. Those first two years weren’t easy for the 26-year-old who went to South Carolina. He wasn’t a seasoned blocker and had started less than half the games he appeared in as a Gamecock.
Granted, since those early years Cook hasn’t blossomed into one of the best tight ends in the game. Still, he doesn't think he has been given much of a chance, telling Fox Sports Midwest's Ben Frederickson that he felt underutilized as a Titan. Jeff Fisher will change that and make Cook a featured part of the offense in 2013. The Rams head coach says he plans on using Cook all over the field, including in the slot and even the backfield.
Cook might be right about being underutilized, but it was only because of youth and injury. He tore his rotator cuff in December of last season and only started five games. This year should be a fresh start for him in St. Louis.
He’ll be paired with Lance Kendricks, who, in some ways, made major strides last year. Kendricks is one year younger than Cook but has only been in the league for two seasons.
Still, his numbers vastly improved from year one to year two. The Rams were thin at receiver for most of the year, but it still says something about Kendricks’ ability as a pass catcher. He will begin training camp on the PUP list after having his knee scoped this summer.
Tight ends are on the rise in today’s NFL. With the emergence of guys like Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, the position is now known as one that can produce big plays.
Kendricks and Cook both have a career yards-per-reception average of over 12. Cook’s is at 13 yards per reception.
It’s natural to think Lance will take a step back in production with the addition of Cook. However, I plan on seeing Cook line up in a bunch of different spots this season. If that happens, Kendricks will find his comfort zone at the natural tight end position. Plus, you can’t forget that he had the longest touchdown catch of any tight end in the league last year.
They are both young, and to some degree still immature as players, but tight ends Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks will be a reliable one-two punch.