Kendall Blanton’s hard work paying off in Rams’ road to Super Bowl

Rams' Kendall Blanton is stopped by San Francisco 49ers' Azeez Al-Shaair.
Rams’ Kendall Blanton, left, is stopped by San Francisco 49ers’ Azeez Al-Shaair, bottom, during the second half of the NFC championship game on Jan. 30 at SoFi Stadium.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

A little visualization can go a long way when you play as seldom as Kendall Blanton, the Rams tight end who spent 2019 and 2020 on the practice squad and played four or fewer snaps in 12 of 20 games this season.

“The coaches always say if you’re in a backup role or further down the depth chart, just get mental reps,” Blanton said in a Wednesday videoconference, when asked how he’s stayed ready despite so few game reps in the past three seasons.

“A lot of working on my own, going over the scripts, if it’s walking through them in my apartment or the parking lot, or having my mom go with me to a middle school where she’s reading off the play calls and we’re walking through them in the grass. Just always trying to be ready for the moment when it comes.”


That moment — the one every undrafted free agent in the NFL dreams of — finally came for Blanton this season, and the 6-foot-6, 262-pounder from Missouri did not shrink from it.

Blanton played eight snaps in a 30-27 divisional-round playoff win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Jan. 23 and scored his first NFL touchdown, a seven-yard catch from Matthew Stafford that gave the Rams a 10-0 lead in the first quarter.

When Tyler Higbee suffered a knee injury in the first quarter of the NFC championship game against San Francisco on Jan. 30, Blanton stepped in and played 61 of 77 snaps, catching five passes for 57 yards in a 20-17 Rams victory.

And with Higbee suffering a sprained knee ligament and looking questionable for Sunday’s Super Bowl, there is a good chance Blanton, 26, will get the start against the Cincinnati Bengals in SoFi Stadium.

“Don’t count Higbee out — he’s a trouper, one of the hardest working and toughest guys I know — so don’t be surprised if you see No. 89 out there making plays,” Blanton said. “But preparing to be a starter, to play a lot, that’s something I’ve always done since my rookie year.

Super Bowl strategy: The Bengals have more receiver targets than thin Rams secondary can handle, so a key for L.A. will be not to allow speedy wideouts to gain yards after the catch.

“Everyone says that cliché, that you’re one play away, but I take that to heart, whether it’s walking through extra plays with one of the quarterbacks or getting some extra film work in or asking the coaches questions.”

Blanton, the son of former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jerry Blanton, wasn’t highly recruited out of Blue Springs (Mo.) South High School or highly touted coming out of Missouri, where he caught 44 passes for 476 yards and six touchdowns in 43 games.

He signed with the Rams in 2019 and played only four special-teams snaps in his first two seasons, but his persistence and hard work positioned him for an expanded role in 2021.

Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL have got it wrong. Their hiring issues are not about diversity, they’re about meritocracy.

Though he caught only four passes for 37 yards in 11 regular-season games, he played a combined 95 offensive snaps in a Week 14 win over Arizona and a Week 15 win over Seattle.

Blanton then caught more passes (five) in the NFC title game than he did in the regular season, including an 11-yard catch during a second-quarter touchdown drive and a 20-yard third-quarter catch that contributed to a touchdown drive.

“The fact that I’m sitting here in this chair and you all want to talk to me is a testament to God and how far He’s brought me, because a few weeks ago, nobody knew who I was, and nobody really cared, and that’s fine,” Blanton said. “That’s just God and His timing and His plan.”

Rams tight end Kendall Blanton scores a touchdown as he is hit by Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive back Antoine Winfield II.
Rams tight end Kendall Blanton scores a touchdown as he is hit by Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive back Antoine Winfield II in the NFC divisional playoff game.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

If part of that plan is a Super Bowl start, Blanton will be ready.

“Let’s have some fun and play football, man,” Blanton said of his approach to Sunday’s game. “I’m not making this any bigger than it needs to be in my head. I don’t perform well when I make it bigger than it needs to be.”

Hoarse play

It’s happening again.

Three years ago, during the run-up to Super Bowl LIII, Rams coach Sean McVay’s voice got raspy as he fulfilled numerous media commitments in addition to conducting meetings and overseeing practices.

On Monday this week, McVay started losing his voice. On Wednesday, his timbre harked to a more energetic version of Marlon Brando in “The Godfather.”

Super Bowl strategy: The Bengals have more receiver targets than thin Rams secondary can handle, so a key for L.A. will be not to allow speedy wideouts to gain yards after the catch.

“Feel great,” he said. “I just sound like s---. Hopefully, we’ll get this voice to come back.”

McVay noticed his voice change on Tuesday after he left his office to talk to assistant coaches.

“I went to speak, and then my voice sounded like this,” he said. “I’m like, ‘What the hell happened?’ So, I got the honey, I got all the remedies going and we’ll get this voice back.”

McVay joked that he is more tolerable when he has his voice.

“I never realized how much I talk and how loud and obnoxious I am when I don’t have my voice,” he said.


The Rams practiced through 22-mph winds in Thousand Oaks on Wednesday, but with winds in the 30-mph range expected on Thursday, practice will be moved to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. … The NFL announced it will play its first regular season game in Germany, one of five international games to be staged in 2022. In addition to the game in Munich, there will be three games in London and one in Mexico. “I’ve played in London three times, and the atmosphere, the fans, the excitement, the venues, are really special,” McVay said. “The travel is challenging, but to expand the NFL platform is great for the brand.”

Staff writer Gary Klein contributed to this report.