Rams and Tyler Higbee work toward another big finish – Press Enterprise
THOUSAND OAKS — The Rams go into the second half of their schedule looking for this year’s late-season star, this year’s stretch-run spark, this year’s Tyler Higbee.
It could be Tyler Higbee himself.
In 2019, the tight end took advantage of improved health and increased opportunities to help revive the Rams’ offense with his record-setting stretch of pass-catching in Weeks 13 to 16.
In 2020, he says he has recovered from a hand injury and hoping to earn a bigger role in the run of crucial games that begin Sunday when the Rams (5-3) host the Seattle Seahawks (6-2).
“Bye week came at a good time. It’s feeling fine, and I’m ready to roll,” HIgbee said this week.
Higbee isn’t the only Rams player who could be more productive in the second eight games than he was in the first.
There are rookies. Running back Cam Akers, safety Jordan Fuller and linebacker Terrell Lewis have had their production curtailed by injuries. Akers could play more as he learns his blocking assignments. Coach Sean McVay praised Akers’ and wide receiver Van Jefferson’s recent work in practice.
There’s defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson, the offseason signing finally set to make his Rams debut Sunday after being sidelined by a respiratory condition.
There’s linebacker Justin Hollins, coming off his two most productive games against Chicago and Miami.
And there’s Johnny Mundt. The Rams’ third tight end behind Higbee and Gerald Everett had a breakout game in the win over the Bears. Mundt was the first player McVay mentioned when he was asked Friday who might emerge in the next eight games.
Mundt was playing because Higbee missed the Bears game after bruising his left hand early in the loss to San Francisco.
But Higbee returned to catch two of the four passes Jared Goff threw his way in the loss at Miami, his hand protected by what McVay called a “Robocop contraption,” making the 27-year-old feel “like Thanos or something.”
McVay praised Higbee’s toughness, something the Rams learned about when the fourth-year pro who’d just signed a four-year, $29 million contract extension tried to stay in an early 2019 game after suffering a bruised lung and coughing up blood on the sideline.
“I’ve got some dog in me. So I just fight through it. We’ll be all right,” Higbee said Thursday.
He probably was never going to match last December, when his recovery from the lung injury, Everett’s own knee injury and McVay’s increased use of two-tight-end sets helped Higbee become the first tight end since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to catch at least seven passes for at least 100 yards in four consecutive games.
But Higbee started this season strong, scoring three touchdowns on five catches in the Week 2 win at Philadelphia. With 20 catches for 236 yards, he’s neck and neck with Everett (20, 228) for fourth among Rams receivers behind wideouts Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and Josh Reynolds.
In what appears to be a grooming choice, not a way to hang on to last December, Higbee said he hasn’t cut his hair in more than a year.
“I don’t have any plans to cut it anytime soon,” he said. “But it’s getting there.”
He’ll be the guy telling the barber how tight ends deserve more passes.
“We’ve got some talented guys in the tight-end room,” Higbee said. “In my opinion, the more we get on the field, the better.”
McVay wouldn’t disagree.
“I think it’s important to have good production from that tight end spot,” the coach said Thursday. “We’re in a good situation where we’ve got a lot of different skill players that we feel comfortable with the ball in their hands and they can make things happen.
“All Tyler has done when he’s got more opportunities is deliver on those things,” McVay said. “When he’s healthy, and when that hand isn’t restricted, I think you’ll see that reflected in his play and production.”
Outside linebackers Leonard Floyd (knee) and Terrell Lewis (shoulder) were listed as questionable with injuries that came up this week, but Sean McVay said he expects them to play against Seattle. Wide receiver Cooper Kupp (wrist, oblique) and running back Darrell Henderson (quad) practiced and were termed good to go. …
Safety Jordan Fuller (shoulder) and guard Joe Noteboom (calf) are set to be activated from injured reserve before Sunday’s game. Defensive tackle Shawn Robinson is on track to make his long-awaited Rams debut after being sidelined by a respiratory condition. …
McVay has said David Edwards will continue to start at left guard after replacing Noteboom and playing well the past six games. Noteboom gets practice reps at guard and tackle on both sides. “Joe’s versatility is a real edge for us,” McVay said.