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Rams tight ends aim to lend bigger hands on Sean McVay's offense this season

The NFL’s highest-scoring team last season featured nearly all of the earmarks of a Sean McVay offense.

Quarterback Jared Goff was a poised and accurate passer; Todd Gurley a productive runner and pass-catcher. Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins and Cooper Kupp were dependable and, occasionally, big-play wideouts.

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The only thing missing for the Rams was McVay’s calling card: Outstanding tight end play and production.

Before the Rams made him the youngest head coach in modern NFL history, McVay made his name as a play-calling savant and offensive coordinator for the Washington Redskins. His varied use of highly productive tight ends set him apart.

That element was mostly absent in 2017 as the Rams averaged 29.9 points per game, won the NFC West and advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 2004.

Tight ends accounted for only 49 of the team’s 320 receptions, and only three of 28 receiving touchdowns.

But with defensive coordinators now studying a full season of McVay’s tendencies as the Rams play-caller, tight ends could break out and play a more prominent role for a team creating Super Bowl buzz.

Gerald Everett, Tyler Higbee and Temarrick Hemingway, who has returned from a broken leg, form a three-headed monster for opponents, Everett said.

Rams tight end Tyler Higbee makes a catch during practice at the team's mini camp on June 12 in Thousand Oaks.
Rams tight end Tyler Higbee makes a catch during practice at the team's mini camp on June 12 in Thousand Oaks. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

“We can finally get a chance to see what the three of us look like together,” he said.

The Rams were off Tuesday, but tight ends have drawn praise from McVay during five walkthroughs and workouts, including two practices in full pads.

“They’ve done a nice job, really, throughout the course of camp,” McVay said.

Higbee and Hemingway are entering their third NFL season, but second-year pro Everett’s development will garner the most scrutiny.

The Rams selected the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Everett with their first pick in the 2017 draft, which came in the second round with the 44th pick.

Everett showed flashes of skills that made him a red-zone and run-and-catch threat in college at South Alabama, but like many rookie tight ends, he struggled with the transition to the demands of playing in the NFL.

He caught only 16 passes, two for touchdowns.

“I was a decent route runner last year and I came through for my team in the clutch when I was called upon,” he said. “But this year, [the goal is] being a more consistent every-down tight end. ... Just being wherever I need to be when I need to be there.”

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With the departure of Watkins, who signed a free-agent contract with the Kansas City Chiefs, the Rams lost their most productive red-zone scoring threat on passes. Everett routinely makes leaping catches in the back of the end zone during practices and could step into that red-zone role.

“I thrived in that skill in college, so of course I would like to try to translate that to the league,” he said.

Shane Waldron, the Rams’ tight ends coach and passing-game coordinator, noted that Everett’s daily approach has become more consistent.

“That’s the thing you learn as a rookie,” Waldron said. “It is a job. It’s different. There’s no class that you to have to go to. There’s none of that stuff in between. So every minute of your day has to be accounted for with football in mind.

“He had that mind last year, and I think this year he’s really grasped that. You see his focus on the details and his attention to his alignments, assignments has just improved every day.”

The 6-6, 255-pound Higbee, a fourth-round pick in 2016, caught 25 passes, one for a touchdown, last season.

“He does a good job of doing a little bit of everything,” Waldron said. “He does a lot of dirty work.”

Having a year of experience in McVay’s offense will help, Higbee said.

“We’re adding things here left and right and always adapting and evolving,” he said.

Hemingway, 6-5 and 246 pounds, sat out last season after suffering a fractured fibula against the Chargers during the third preseason game.

During his rehabilitation, he studied the playbook. When he returned for organized-team activities during spring, he impressed McVay and Waldron.

He has continued to do so during training camp, making several difficult catches.

A sixth-round pick from South Carolina State in 2016, Hemingway has come a long way from being overwhelmed at times as a rookie.

“I look back and I laugh because now everything seems to be coming together and I’m starting to see the bigger picture,” he said.

The Rams open the preseason next week at Baltimore. The game will offer McVay and his staff a first real chance to assess the tight ends’ collective impact on the offense.

Everett is confident the trio will add to an already prolific attack.

“We all bring something different to the table,” Everett said. “And they know how to use us.”

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