Saturday, June 30, 2012

Kendricks Looks for Breakout Second Season

by Nick Wagoner

As Brian Schottenheimer and his staff prepared for the 2011 NFL Draft, one player that continued to catch their eye was a young tight end out of Wisconsin named Lance Kendricks.
Before Schottenheimer and the New York Jets had a crack at selecting Kendricks in the second round of that year’s draft, the Rams scooped him up with the intent to make him one of the focal points of a revamped offense.
Fast forward a year and Schottenheimer is now the offensive coordinator of the Rams and is getting the chance to work with Kendricks, the one tight end on the Rams roster who seems to have some sense of job security at a position that will have a lot of competition in training camp.
“I know one thing, I think starting with Lance, we really liked Lance back in New York when we looked at him,” Schottenheimer said. “I think he’s got a chance to be a terrific all around player. Then we are complementing him with guys that can do some stuff in the running game, also some matchup (stuff).”
Kendricks returns to the mix after an up and down rookie season in which he looked like a potential breakout star in the preseason but through some nagging injuries and missed opportunities, he didn’t quite live up to his preseason performance when the lights came on.
Soon after the season ended, Kendricks went to work on figuring out what went wrong and why he was unable to carry over a preseason performance in which he had 11 catches for 155 yards and three touchdowns in just part of the four exhibition contests.
Kendricks appeared poised for a big rookie season but a key drop in the opener against Philadelphia set him back and he never fully recovered on his way to 28 catches for 352 yards and no scores in 15 games.
In looking back at the film from those games, it didn’t take Kendricks long to recognize what slowed him down.
“The main thing I saw was a lot of times when I was tired was when I made my most mistakes,” Kendricks said. “Just being able to stay focused and fight through that and compete and go out there and just perform when I am tired was my main thing I wanted to do better. When you get tired, you can forget things and I would have a mental error here or there so I think most of it just came from fatigue.”
To that end, Kendricks took what he learned from watching the film into the weight room and his workouts.
Kendricks played most of his rookie season at around 243-245 pounds. But he wanted to put on some muscle while also adding more cardiovascular fitness.
A strict regiment of cardio workouts combined with a lot of weight lifting, stretching and the incorporation of more protein into his diets has helped Kendricks add about 5 pounds of muscle, up to 250.
“I was just trying to be more mentally into it that way so when I do get tired I can keep focused,” Kendricks said.  “Just from watching film and being able to play the game those weeks I played, I think I have learned a lot and caught up to the speed of the game. For me, I think that was what was most important, just being able to catch on to the speed of the game.”
Of course, Kendricks being a little bit behind in 2011 certainly was understandable considering the circumstances he came into after he was drafted.
The lockout kept the Rams and Kendricks from going through a full offseason, denying all rookies the chance to get acclimated to the advanced speed of the NFL and the opportunity to begin learning more advanced NFL systems.
Kendricks just completed his first NFL offseason program, again tasked with the responsibility of learning a new offensive scheme. He said those additional workouts were certainly a benefit.
“I think being able to go through the playbook with the coaches and run through some plays before training camp starts helps us get a jumpstart on everything,” Kendricks said. “Just having this offseason and being able to workout with the team, I was able to focus on getting my body right and getting healthy and taking my protein and doing the things they feel is right which will help me out in the long run.”
Early indications from the team’s Organized Team Activities and minicamps are that Kendricks figures prominently in Schottenheimer’s offense. The Rams are carrying nine tight ends (if you include Ben Guidugli, who has worked at fullback and tight end) on the roster right now, a clear indication of the position’s importance within the scheme.
Not only are there many tight ends competing for what will likely be four spots on the roster, there is a lot of information for those tight ends to process. Aside from quarterback, no position in Schottenheimer’s offense demands more in a mental capacity.
“That comes with the versatility of this offense; you have to be able to know a lot of things and know what to do at all times,” Kendricks said. “I think I am accepting the role as it is. We are all intelligent guys and learning from each other and trying to help this offense. That tells us we are just as valuable as anyone else. We are taking it one step at a time but at the same time, we are really trying to make strides because we really want to be the best group. We like having a lot on our shoulders.”
Tight end figures to be one of the most heated battles for roster spots in this year’s training camp but Kendricks figures to be the team’s starter come opening day.
During the offseason program, Kendricks did a little bit of everything; lining up as a de facto fullback in the backfield, playing some on the line and detaching and splitting out wide.
The amount of work was a challenge that Kendricks took head on, drawing praise from Schottenheimer for his work throughout.
Although Kendricks suffered a slight ankle injury during the team’s final minicamp going up for a pass down the field (he missed just one practice), he will be at full strength and ready to go when training camp opens at the end of July.
By his own admission, Kendricks has something to prove in his second year in the league and he’s looking forward to the opportunity.
“I’m very excited,” Kendricks said. “From watching the film, we watched a lot of things from last year to see where we could improve and it’s almost like night and day. We love the coaches, they are awesome. I think that makes all the difference. Nothing against the (old coaches) but just being taught the right way and being in better shape and having a better mindset, I hope to be able to go out there and perform.”

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