With training camp set to begin later this month, Redskins.com previews the current state of the Redskins' roster, continuing today with the team's tight ends.*
The Washington Redskins will venture down to the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center later this month with six tight ends to comprise one of the deepest units in football.
Jordan Reed is the star of the group after a breakout 2015, while Niles Paul, Logan Paulsen and Derek Carrier are returning from season-ending injuries. The team retained Marcel Jensen and signed Vernon Davis in the offseason.
ROSTER SUBTRACTION(S):- Alex Smith (Free Agent)
KEY ADDITION(S):- Vernon Davis (Free Agent, signed from Denver)
CURRENT STATE OF THE UNIT:
Before the Redskins head to Richmond for training camp, check out who all is on the roster position-by-position. Today, it is the tight ends.
Jordan Reed emerged as one of the best tight ends in football last season, leading the Redskins in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns, the first Redskins tight end to accomplish that feat in 38 years. Reed's 11 touchdown catches were the highest team total since 1988 and tied for seventh highest in the league with New England's Rob Gronkowski and Houston's Deandre Hopkins.
Reed is set to be a Redskin for the long haul after signing a contract extension this offseason, and he enters 2016 aiming even higher with the help of his dangerous supporting cast.
"[Defenses] are not going to be able to put too much attention on me during the game so that will free me up a little bit and I may have more one-on-one matchups. It's going to be fun," Reed said.
With all of Reed's success in 2015, it's easy to forget that Niles Paul, not Reed, was the starting tight end entering training camp last season.
Paul earned the admiration of his teammates, the respect of the coaching staff and a new contract from the front office in 2015 by playing wherever the team needed him. He spent time at wide receiver, special teams and fullback throughout his career before finally earning the starting tight end position in 2015. But almost as soon as he was named the starter, Paul broke his ankle (during the first preseason game against the Browns) and was declared out for the season. It was his first season-ending football injury at any level.
"I can admit that this was probably one of the more depressing times having to go through a transition period, not being able to do anything, and watch my boys go out there and play every Sunday," Paul said. "It hurt. At first I was feeling sorry for myself, but my family and my teammates all rallied behind me. Tight end coach Wes [Phillips], he wrote me a heartfelt note just telling me how much he believed in me and was encouraging me. I couldn't let those people down, man. I couldn't let myself down. I have never quit on anything. Nobody thought I was getting back and I did get back."
Like Paul, seventh-year veteran Logan Paulsen's season also ended before it began, spending the entire 2015 season on the sideline with a toe injury. In a tight end group full of talented pass catchers, Paulsen has made a name for himself as the bruising blocker of the bunch, a role he is going to try to fill on the roster in 2016 with size and power.
Tight ends coach Wes Phillips said that having Paul and Paulsen back will be huge, especially in the running game where the technical nuances learned in the offseason are crucial.
"Having those two back is a really big deal," Phillips said. "When those guys get hurt during training camp, we get new guys in who were capable of doing things, but the techniques that you're working, the footwork, all those types of things, they haven't had the whole offseason, the whole spring, the whole training camp to work on those techniques, so having all the guys stay healthy, having continuity going into the season will be big."
Also returning from injury is Derek Carrier, who tore his ACL and MCL in Week 14 against the Chicago Bears. The second-year tight end has spent the offseason rehabbing, and coaches expect him to be at full speed for training camp.
In addition to returning Paul, Paulsen and Carrier from injury, the Redskins signed Pro-Bowl tight end and bona fide physical freak Vernon Davis in the offseason to create possibly the best pass-catching trio of any tight end group in football. Davis, who won a Super Bowl with Denver last season, is a Washington, D.C., native eager to return to his hometown and play in a tight end-friendly offense.
"I've never looked at myself as a blocker – never have," Davis said. "I've always looked at myself as a threat in the passing game. I always had confidence in myself. But, you know what – I block because I want to win. You know, I block because I just can't stand to lose."
WHAT TO WATCH:
While the targets and touchdowns will make headlines, the group's focus on being physical in the run game could be key to a balanced offense this season.
Reed will look to build on his rapport with quarterback Kirk Cousins and continue his rapid NFL ascent. Paul and Davis should be competing for targets and working on tandem blocking with Paulsen, who will serve primarily as a blocking tight end.
With the various offensive packages that offensive coordinator Sean McVay implemented last year, there could be times when three different tight ends are on the field at a given time, to both block and catch passes.
Carrier and Marcel Jensen will look to fight for a roster spot and likely contribute on special teams throughout camp.