EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Rams tight end Lance Kendricks estimates that he’s about two weeks from returning to practice from a torn meniscus in his knee.
But when the Rams opted to take Kendricks (along with defensive tackle Jermelle Cudjo) off the active physically unable to perform list Tuesday afternoon, it served as a reminder of how important a cog he is to their offense.
“If you’re on active PUP you’re really not permitted to do anything with the team, so we felt like both of them are getting closer,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “So, take them off and that way they can at least participate in walk-throughs and get the benefit of walk-through reps. So, that’s where we are. Neither one of them is ready to come out and practice yet, but we just want to take advantage of the walk-through reps, and that’s what we’ve done.”
The timing of the move makes sense considering the preseason is nearly halfway through. It’s around this time of training camp where teams begin installing game plans for the opener, and Kendricks figures to play a large role in how the Rams approach things offensively.
Even with the addition of Jared Cook in the offseason, the chance to pair the athletic, downfield-oriented Cook with the versatile skills of Kendricks would seem to be a likely staple in the offense.
“That’s huge,” quarterback Sam Bradford said. “That’s really big for us. I think it’s going to be really exciting to see Kendricks and Cook on the field at the same time. When we go ‘12’ (personnel set) with those two guys out there, there is a lot of speed on the field. And obviously everyone knows Lance’s ability to catch, but also to be a very good blocker in the pass game and in the run game. So, it’s going to be exciting. It’ll be interesting to see just all the things we can do with those two on the field together.”
Kendricks was one of the Rams’ busiest players in 2012, his second season in the league. After bouncing back from a rough rookie season plagued with drops, Kendricks took a step forward in his second season.
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer clearly appreciated what Kendricks brought to the table, and by the end of the season Kendricks had played 80.7 percent of the team’s snaps, fifth among offensive players and third among returning Rams.
Kendricks’ involvement in the offense varied in many ways as he lined up attached to the line, in the backfield as a de facto fullback, in the slot, and just about any other way you could think of to use a tight end.
According to Pro Football Focus, Kendricks nearly split his time evenly between running routes and run-blocking. All told, he ran 407 pass routes, served as a run-blocker 394 times, and pass-blocked 74 times.
Upon his return, Kendricks fully expects to continue to serve as a sort of Swiss Army Knife for the offense.
“It will be very similar to last year, playing in the backfield, point of attack as far as runs like always,” Kendricks said. “And I’ll get my share of routes, too, just like everybody else, but like you said, there’s a lot of balls to go around.”
Somewhat quietly, Kendricks improved his pass-catching in 2012 with 42 catches for 519 yards and four touchdowns. In the process, he chopped his dropped passes from nine to five and seemed to clear whatever mental hurdle hampered his hands as a rookie in 2011.
Although Kendricks wasn’t sure what type of tight end Cook was when the team signed him, Kendricks said the duo has developed an easy rapport where they help each other out.
“Obviously there are a lot of different types of tight ends,” Kendricks said. “It turns out he’s a great downfield threat and all around good player. So just being next to him will be a plus for me.”
Before that happens, Kendricks has to complete his recovery from the knee injury that kept him out of Organized Team Activities and training camp thus far. He suffered the meniscus tear while working out in the team’s indoor facility just before OTAs began.
When Kendricks went to have the knee scope, the medical staff discovered the issue was more serious and he had a complete meniscus repair.
Watching the Rams' offense begin anew during this camp has been difficult for Kendricks, who has regularly had to remind himself to not push too hard for fear of re-injury.
“It can be frustrating, but it’s a long healing process,” Kendricks said. “The main thing is to let it heal correctly so I don’t have to do it again. It’s pretty much fully healed now. I’m just trying to take it day by day and just get back into shape and be ready for Game 1.”
In the meantime, Kendricks considers himself fortunate to be returning to an offense he knows well after playing such a prominent role in 2012. He’s been a regular in meetings and followed along closely in practice to ensure he’s as up to speed as possible as the offense evolves in his absence.
“It’s been great watching these guys run around, and it’s motivation for me to get back out there,” Kendricks said. “I have been doing as much as I could up until now. Now I am able to do a little bit more.”