The St. Louis Rams were without their top two tight ends at Wednesday's minicamp. Lance Kendricks and Michael Hoomanawanui sat out practice. While inconvenient, their absence gave coaches a chance to get a look at the handful of other players competing for what head coach Jeff Fisher described as a very important role in the team's new offense.
"We're emphasizing the run game, so we wanted just to make sure we had numbers with (Mike Hoomanawanui) kind of targeting training camp, we just didn't want to go down at that position," Fisher said.
Tight ends, h-backs, hybrids, whatever you want to call them, it's best to pick a name and stick with it because those players will be on the field with regularity this season.
"In the offense, the tight end and the fullback's interchangeable and we, at any given time, could put three of them on the field," Fisher said.
The Rams loaded up on tight ends this spring to accommodate that game plan, signing a trio of undrafted rookies along with a pair of veterans, including former Jet Matthew Mulligan, a blocking specialist.
"It's a hard position to find," Fisher explained of the team's decision to load up on tight ends. "If you look through the draft, there were a handful of guys drafted and they're hard to find. We had some undrafted guys come in that actually look pretty good right now, so it's just a lot of great competition there. Can't get enough of it."
Ben Guidugli, a holdover from last year's roster, made the switch to fullback from tight end, putting him into the lead blocker role. He fits the mold for one of three types of players the Rams will be using at the TE/FB position.
"There's three basic types of tight ends in the offense," Fisher elaborated. "You've got the big, blocking, on-the-line tight end. Then you've got the guy that's going to go down the field that everybody's going to now, the guy that can be the big time, miss-match receiver. Then you've got the guy that's kind of in between a tight end and a true fullback that can line up on the line at times and move around and change formations."
So who's who for the Rams at tight end? Hoomanawanui fits into the last category, with some upside as a pass catcher. Fisher put Guidugli into the last category. Mulligan is a blocker, and the rookies are something of an unknown.
Kendricks looks to be the only one on the roster who fits into the middle category, the offensive weapon. His rookie season was marred in the Rams' struggles, but if Brian Schottenheimer's work in New Jersey is any indication, he could be in for a big role as this team's version of Dustin Keller.
Kendricks also happens to be a pretty fair blocker. Last season, Pro Football Focus gave him a positive 3.8 grade as a run blocker. Of course, being a Wisconsin product, run blocking has always been a part of his game. The Rams really need him to work on the receiving part now.
Another player to watch in training camp is Deangelo Peterson, an undrafted rookie from LSU. He felt his talents as a receiver were underutilized in the Mad Hatter's offense, something our own Papapegasus noted in this post from late May. If the Rams can develop him, Peterson may turn into a decent receiving option, a backup to Kendricks in that middle category Fisher described for his tight ends.
Quarterback Sam Bradford, who will be relying heavily on the tight ends, praised the group.
"I think that's going to be a solid position group for us this year," Bradford said. "I think, we've got several guys on the roster right now who can play. Obviously, it would be nice to get (Lance) Kendricks and (Mike Hoomanawanui) ‘Hooman' back on the field, back healthy. But the other guys that are in there right now are doing a really nice job. It's just kind of my job and all the other quarterbacks' job to get on the same with them and make sure that our timing is right."