The St. Louis Rams undoubtedly have a wealth of talent on their roster and are an up-and-coming team heading into the 2014 season, but their offense is mainly unproven as a unit, which could be detrimental to their success considering they play in the NFL‘s toughest division — the NFC West — against the likes of the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers, both of which have punishing defensive units that capitalize on the mistakes of marginal offensive opponents.
A dynamic tight end, however, almost always creates matchup issues for even the best of defenses, which is one of the reasons why the Rams desperately need their No.1 tight end Jared Cook to excel in 2014.
It was a virtual no-brainer for current Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher to bring Cook to St. Louis prior to the 2013 season considering Fisher held the same title with the Tennessee Titans in 2009, who picked Cook in the third round of the NFL draft. Anytime a coach is willing to reconvene with a former player in a new city typically means the two have developed a rapport together, which is often conducive to success.
Cook did not have an overwhelming statistical season during the 2013 campaign. However, in fairness, the Rams’ offense was devastated by Sam Bradford‘s injury and played nine games with Kellen Clemens under center, who did a serviceable job but is a career backup and not on the same level as Bradford.
Cook caught 51 passes, accumulated 671 yards and scored five touchdowns throughout the season despite the loss of Bradford. He led the team in receptions, yards and scores, which is rare for a tight end. In 2014, however, they need him to do much more considering the team’s receiving corps is laden with inexperienced and unproven young talent along with the occasional veteran reclamation project (Kenny Britt) sprinkled in for good measure.
Tavon Austin showed glimpses of brilliance in what was his rookie campaign in 2013, but was far too inconsistent and will be used on special teams in addition to WR due to his prowess for production in the kicking game. After Cook and Austin, one has to think the Rams’ coaching staff is having a hard time projecting what to expect from the remainder of the WR depth chart, making Cook’s presence that much more important.
Cook finished in the middle of the pack in targets among tight ends in 2013 with 85, a trend that must change in 2014. It is no secret Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer runs a somewhat vanilla offense, however; while he was with the New York Jets in 2011, he coached TE Dustin Keller to his breakout season with 65 receptions, 815 yards and five TDs. In both 2010 and 2011 under Schottenheimer, Keller was targeted over 100 times (110, 116), which is a strategy Schottenheimer must attempt with Cook as well.
Another adjustment Schottenheimer is hopefully considering is making more use of the tight end in the red zone. Over the last five seasons, the most TDs a tight end in a Schottenheimer system has caught is just five. While Cook is no Jimmy Graham and 16 TDs cannot be expected, he also can and should push closer to eight if the Rams intend on having a winning season.
There is no doubt Bradford is by far the most pivotal presence for the Rams offense in 2014, and the team needs a ton of other variables to go in their favor; however, with a strong defense that will keep them in nearly every game, the offense needs to improve, and to do so, Cook needs to be the one who excels.