Things could loosen up for Rams' tight ends in new coach Sean McVay's offense

Things could loosen up for Rams' tight ends in new coach Sean McVay's offense
Rams tight end Tyler Higbee hauls in a 31-yard pass over Carolina Panthers linebacker A.J. Klein on Nov. 6, 2016. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

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 pass-heavy 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, second-year 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 versatility, 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.

The Times' Gary Klein and Lindsey Thiry report from Rams training camp: Defensive lineman Aaron Donald continues to hold out because of a contract dispute, the secondary makes standout plays and the team prepares to host the Chargers in a joint practice on Wednesday.

"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 6-foot-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 sixth-round pick from South Carolina State in 2016, 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."

Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein