IRVINE, Calif. — Line up Los Angeles Rams tight end Gerald Everett in a red zone or goal line drill and the rookie will find ways to score touchdowns.
The second-round draft pick is demonstrating the build to muscle past defenders, the speed to dart past them and the hands and footwork to make contested catches.
But even Everett hasn’t figured out which attribute best explains his effectiveness near the end zone.
“I’m not sure yet,” Everett said. “I’m not sure. I guess only time will tell.”
Whatever the answer is, the Rams hope their reconfigured group of wide receivers and tight ends can be as busy and productive in the red zone as they were during individual and team periods Wednesday focusing on that part of the field.
It would be a welcome change. Nothing summed up the Rams’ offensive futility in 2016 as their woefully limited red zone opportunities. In the seven games quarterback Jared Goff started as a rookie, they scored seven touchdowns on only 13 trips inside the 20-yard line.
Goff was 7 of 16 for 45 yards with four touchdowns and one interception in the red zone last season, attempting the same number of passes inside the 20 as Cleveland’s Cody Kessler and San Francisco’s Blaine Gabbert.
With the addition of Sammy Watkins in a trade, Robert Woods in free agency, and Everett and wide receiver Cooper Kupp in the draft, Goff looks considerably more comfortable and effective in that part of the field during training camp.
“We just keep getting those guys the ball and they’ll make plays,” Goff said.
Each has a different skillset that flashes in the red zone. Watkins offers exceptional athleticism. Woods and Kupp bring the route-running to set up defensive backs and the savvy to find holes in coverages. Everett has the physical tools to exploit linebackers or safeties.
“I think it’s nice when you have a good complementary group where everybody has something unique about their game, but I think you also want to be mindful of these guys can all do a little bit of everything as well,” coach Sean McVay said.
“You don’t want to be predictable, but you want to be able to put guys in positions where they are doing things they do best.”
The latest boost is former Texas A&M wide receiver Josh Reynolds, who was sidelined for several weeks by a quadriceps injury.
Now healthy, Reynolds is getting plenty of work to catch up. That included significant reps in the red zone, where the rookie can use his 6-foot-3 frame to pull down the ball at its highest point.
“Just sitting out, you never feel like you’re getting any better,” said Reynolds, who was selected in the fourth round. “Being able to come out here and get all my techniques and stuff better, it’s always a great thing.”
Everett could become the most intriguing piece if he can do what Jordan Reed did for McVay in Washington when he was offensive co-ordinator. Reed caught nine touchdowns over the past two seasons, with all but two coming inside the 20-yard line.
With the receiving skills Everett displayed at South Alabama, where he caught 90 passes for 1,292 yards and 12 touchdowns, the Rams are hoping to get similar production.
Everett estimates he lined up in the slot or out wide 70 per cent of the time in college, so his in-line work is a work in progress, especially as a run blocker.
In fact, it was a block and not a catch that caught McVay’s eye in the Rams’ second-to-last practice at UC Irvine.
Still, Everett’s contributions in the passing game should easily offset any limitations elsewhere.
“You see the size, you see the ability in terms of being able to have great body control for a man of his size with the ball skills,” McVay said.
“Being able to see him get touches in live action when he can truly get tackled you will appreciate some of the things that you really liked seeing him do in college at a high level.”