A happy problem for the Rams' offense now could lead to an assortment of problems for opposing defenses in the future. The 90-man roster following minicamp includes eight players with college or NFL experience at tight end, a position usually allotted three spots on the 53-man list for the regular season.
"Tight ends create a problem in this league, in our opinion, for match-ups because you can get in multiple formations with those guys and sometimes they are in the backfield and sometimes they are playing receiver and sometimes they are in line," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "And that allows you to create problems for a defense."
Only St. Louisan Mike McNeill has competed with so many others for the relatively few spots available at tight end.
"In college we had a lot because Nebraska had a big walk-on program," said McNeill, a graduate of Kirkwood High. "But competition is good, in the end."
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And because Schottenheimer's offense uses tight ends in so many ways, the demand seems greater than in seasons past.
"In the offense, the tight end and the fullback are interchangeable and we, at any given time, could put three of them on the field," coach Jeff Fisher said. "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."
The mix starts with Lance Kendricks, a second-round pick in 2011 who flashed signs of being a receiving tight end who causes mismatches. He caught 11 passes for 151 yards and three touchdowns last preseason but could seldom find the handle in the regular season and finished with just 28 catches for 352 yards. Kendricks missed about 2½ days of the Rams' three-day minicamp last week with an undisclosed injury.
"We really liked Lance back in New York when we looked at him," said Schottenheimer, the Jets' former offensive coordinator. "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."
There's also Michael Hoomanawanui, known as Hooman, who has worked by himself in much of the offseason due to a knee injury. Hoomanawanui was drafted out of Illinois in the fifth round in 2010 but has been healthy enough to play in only eight games in each of the last two seasons and has a total of 20 catches.
Other holdovers from last year include McNeill and Ben Guidugli. McNeill, 6-4 and 235, joined the Rams just before Christmas and was inactive for the last two games. Guidugli, 6-1 and 248, was an undrafted rookie who has been shifted to fullback.
"There's three basic types of tight ends in the offense," Fisher said. "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 know, the guy that can be the big-time, mismatch 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. We felt he was better suited to do those things out of the backfield as well as on the line."
Guidugli, who played tight end and slot receiver at the University of Cincinnati, said coming out of the backfield "has been an adjustment. It's a different point of view than on the line or spread out. I'm embracing it and playing faster every day."
Veterans added to the mix are Matt Mulligan, who played three years under Schottenheimer with the Jets, and Brody Eldridge, a waiver pick-up from Indianapolis and a teammate of quarterback Sam Bradford at Oklahoma.
"It's been going really well," said Eldridge, who roomed with Bradford here through OTAs and minicamp. "There's a lot of good guys to be around. Tight end is deep, a lot of good competition here. It's good to be back with Sammy. Shottie is a good guy, so I think it's going to be fun."
Then come the undrafted rookies: Jamie Childers, Deangelo Peterson and Cory Harkey. Despite the glut, though, no one has complained about lack of playing time.
"We rotate," said McNeill. "Everyone's getting plays, some more than others. That's just the nature of the game, but everyone's gotten quite a bit of reps. Everyone's gotten a fair chance to do a little bit of receiving, blocking, everything."
Though Bradford said he had done more work with tight ends this offseason, he wasn't complaining about the workload.
"We do have a lot of tight ends. 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 Kendricks and 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 page with them and make sure that our timing is right."