Kendricks' return comes at crucial time

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A week ago there was a chance that the St. Louis Rams could carry as many as five tight ends into the regular season opener against the Arizona Cardinals.

The odds of that happening have probably increased a bit since that time. Blocking specialist Cory Harkey suffered a leg injury in last week’s game against Denver and the Rams released backup Colby Prince on Monday afternoon.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher has not offered much on the extent of Harkey’s injury, but he indicated Monday that Harkey wouldn’t miss extended time.

“We got good news on Harkey,” Fisher said. “That’s all I can say.”

On the bright side, Lance Kendricks is nearing a return from offseason knee surgery and his return should help make up for the loss of Harkey.

Including Kendricks and Harkey, the Rams will obviously keep Jared Cook as well. That leaves three other options -- Mike McNeill, Zach Potter and Philip Lutzenkirchen -- competing for one or two spots.

Of more importance, though, is getting Kendricks up to speed in an evolving offense that he hasn’t been able to participate in at all during the offseason.

The Rams relied fairly heavily on multiple tight end sets in 2012, but the combination of Kendricks and Cook should increase those numbers this year.

Last year, the Rams had 143 rush attempts and 60 pass attempts out of two tight end formations and 12 pass attempts with 29 rush attempts out of three or more tight end sets.

Kendricks is the key to that, though, because of his ability to play attached to the line as a blocker, in the slot as a receiver or in the backfield as a fullback. While Cook brings a play making element to the position the Rams haven’t had in a long time to the position, it’s Kendricks who is the sort of glue guy that can help keep the offense humming.

On Monday, Kendricks participated in some team drills for the first time in this camp though by his own admission it was some light work. By his own admission, the biggest thing for him moving forward will be to get up to speed on some of the offensive tweaks made so the offense can be as multiple as offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer wants it to be.

“Especially with Jared here, things shifted a little bit,” Kendricks said. “Things are just a little bit different. So my role isn’t exactly going to be exactly what it was last year. So learning the new wrinkles and stuff is kind of what I’ve been doing.”

Kendricks said he is unlikely to play this week against Baltimore, though he expects to go through the pre-game routine of warming up. The last hurdle for him will be to get some contact and get back in the flow of actually playing before the Sept. 8 opener against Arizona.

For his part, Kendricks fully expects to be back at full speed for the opener. Having him back in the mix sooner than later could go a long way toward determining the rate at which the offense becomes what the Rams have envisioned.