McVay’s tight-fit­ting of­fense has its al­lure

Rams’ tight ends, un­der­uti­lized in past, like idea of be­ing weaponized in new coach’s sys­tem

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Gary Klein

As the Rams’ coach­ing search pro­gressed last win­ter, tight ends Tyler Hig­bee and Te­mar­rick Hem­ing­way tracked it with only pass­ing at­ten­tion.

The choice was out of their con­trol.

When Sean McVay’s name came to the fore­front, they took no­tice. The Wash­ing­ton Red­skins of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor ran a passheavy scheme that fre­quently put the ball in the hands of tight ends Jor­dan Reed and Ver­non Davis.

Hem­ing­way re­called the Jan­uary day the Rams an­nounced McVay’s hir­ing.

“I went and worked out as soon as I found that out,” he said, laugh­ing.

McVay’s pre­mium on tight ends was ev­i­dent a few months later. Dur­ing the NFL draft, the Rams used their first pick to select Ger­ald Everett.

Now Everett, sec­ondyear pros Hig­bee and Hem­ing­way and vet­eran Cory Harkey make up the tight end corps. Un­drafted free agent Travis Wil­son, a con­verted quar­ter­back, also im­pressed dur­ing the first week of train­ing camp.

Everett, Hig­bee and Hem­ing­way pro­vide versa-

tility, McVay said.

“They’re com­pet­ing well in the run and the pass,” he said. “And the more that we can present out of those per­son­nel groups, I think the tougher you are to de­fend.”

Op­po­nents had no prob­lem stop­ping the Rams last sea­son. They loaded up to stuff run­ning back Todd Gur­ley, dar­ing the NFL’s worst of­fense to beat them with passes.

Tight end Lance Ken­dricks caught 50 passes, Hig­bee 11. They com­bined for three touch­downs on a team that fin­ished 4-12.

Mean­while, McVay over­saw a Wash­ing­ton of­fense that ranked third over­all and sec­ond in yards pass­ing. In a lineup that in­cluded wide re­ceivers DeSean Jack­son and Pierre Gar­con, tight ends Jor­dan Reed and Ver­non Davis caught 66 and 44 passes, re­spec­tively, and com­bined for eight touch­downs.

Everett, who played at South Alabama, made head­lines upon his ar­rival at train­ing camp when said that he and Hig­bee could be bet­ter than the Red­skins tight ends.

McVay said he ap­pre­ci­ated the rookie’s con­fi­dence.

“Ev­ery time he does some­thing wrong I al­ways give him . . . ‘I don’t know, would Jor­dan Reed or Ver­non Davis have done on that?’ ” McVay joked.

Said Hig­bee: “Those guys are Pro Bowl guys, vet­eran guys and un­be­liev­able play­ers — and we haven’t done any­thing yet. So, love the con­fi­dence, but we’ll see.”

Dur­ing the first week of camp, Everett has made tough catches in tight cov­er­age and ath­letic aerial plays.

Wash­ing­ton’s Reed and Davis, he said, are great play­ers whom he has tried to em­u­late. But Everett backpedaled only slightly from his pre­vi­ous com­ments.

“A lot of peo­ple, they look at me as a rookie say­ing a big state­ment like that,” he said. “But when you look at our tight ends, we have a lot of guys that are ver­sa­tile and they can take the top off a de­fense.

“The Wash­ing­ton tight ends . . . those are great tight ends ev­ery year. But look­ing at the Rams right ends, I feel like we’re def­i­nitely go­ing to be top-notch and elite.”

The Rams’ sys­tem is more com­plex than what he played in col­lege. But the 6foot-3, 245-pound Everett — the Rams’ short­est tight end — said he was pro­gress­ing with help from Harkey, a sixth-year pro, and play­ers one year re­moved from col­lege such as Hig­bee and Hem­ing­way.

“I get the best of both worlds,” Everett said.

Hig­bee, a fourth-round pick from Western Ken­tucky, ap­peared on track for a pro­duc­tive rookie sea­son in 2016 but he did not be­come a ma­jor part of the of­fense.

The game, he said, has slowed down for him in Year 2, and he is look­ing for­ward to pos­si­bly get­ting more op­por­tu­ni­ties in McVay’s scheme.

“This of­fense is tight-end friendly, which is awe­some,” he said. “You get to run around a lit­tle bit.”

Hem­ing­way, a six­thround pick from South Carolina State last year, has made big strides from his rookie sea­son, when he played in eight games but did not catch a pass.

He is more com­fort­able with all as­pects, he said, from some­thing as ba­sic as his stance to rec­og­niz­ing the NFL’s dis­guised de­fen­sive schemes.

“In col­lege it was pretty much what you see is what you’re go­ing to get,” he said. “Out here it’s a lot dif­fer­ent.”

Hem­ing­way said he is ex­cited to be part of a scheme that fea­tures mul­ti­ple tight ends lined up in mul­ti­ple lo­ca­tions.

“It’s hard to keep a tab on us be­cause we’re all over the field,” he said. “We’re pretty much ev­ery­where.

“You might see four tight ends. You just never know.”

Harkey, who has never caught more than 13 passes in a sea­son, has mainly been uti­lized as a back­field blocker dur­ing his ca­reer. McVay praised his re­li­a­bil­ity.

Harkey says he is ready for what­ever role is nec­es­sary, in­clud­ing men­tor­ing the younger play­ers.

“I’ve been around and seen some things,” he said, “so it’s good to be able to just work with them and talk them through some things.

“They can lean on me for what­ever they need.”

Robert Gau­thier Los An­ge­les Times

SEC­OND-YEAR PRO Te­mar­rick Hem­ing­way, de­fended by John John­son in prac­tice, is part of a four-man tight end corps that in­cludes top pick Ger­ald Everett.

Robert Gau­thier Los An­ge­les Times

ONLY 11 PASSES found their way into Tyler Hig­bee’s hands last sea­son, in­clud­ing this one against Carolina and A.J. Klein. But this year could be dif­fer­ent; Rams coach Sean McVay has a his­tory of fea­tur­ing tight ends.

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