With training camp set to begin this month, Redskins.com previews the current state of the Redskins' roster, continuing with the team's tight ends.
As Pro Bowler Jordan Reed continues to recover from a hamstring injury that forced him on the Injured Reserve list last season, Vernon Davis and Jeremy Sprinkle have served as the Redskins' primary options at the tight end position throughout this offseason.
Addition(s): Garrett Hudson (College Free Agent) and Matt Flanagan (College Free Agent)
Subtraction(s): Niles Paul (Free Agency)
CURRENT STATE OF THE UNIT:
While this group was impacted by the injury bug that plagued many areas of the Redskins roster last season, there are still plenty of positives to build off heading into this year.
Davis, 34, demonstrated last season that even as one of the oldest players on the team, he's playing some of the best football in his career since his time in San Francisco, recording 648 receiving yards and starting all 16 games in 2017. His return to the form that made the Washington D.C., native one of the premier options at the position five years ago has placed less stress on tight ends coach Wes Phillips as they adjust to life with Alex Smith under center.
"I think more than anything is [the other tight ends] seeing his approach to not only practice, his film study, his approach to meetings, and to really just life in general," Phillips said during minicamp. "He really is about being the best he can be in any situation he's in. From them to see a guy who's had as much success as he's had and has all the physical ability but also takes care of his body, spends extra time watching film, and does all the little things exactly right. For them to see that, and understand that that's how you become what he's become is invaluable."
Check out images of the Washington Redskins' first day of Phase 1 offseason workouts at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park.
As a 13-year veteran, the Maryland product is fully expected to serve as the primary voice of the tight ends and the offense as a whole. His strong play last season puts Washington's offense in a position where opposing defenses will be tasked with the imposing challenge of defending two major receiving tight ends.
Of course, that promising thought is contingent upon Reed staying healthy. The New London, Conn., native has yet to play a full season in his six-year career, but has said that he's done more this offseason to prepare himself for competing in all 16 games. Even in his shortened campaigns, Redskins fans know that the Florida product is a game-changing player every time he steps onto the field.
"I still got to prove that I can play those 16 games," Reed said. "I'm doing a lot right now with my body, taking the right vitamins, eating the right food, changing up my diet a lot. Hopefully that's going to help me sustain."
Outside of the two Pro Bowlers are a slew of young players looking to prove their worth once the team arrives at the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond, Va.
First there's Manasseh Garner, who spent time on the practice squad for the majority of last year before getting an opportunity on the active roster for the final game of 2017. Then there's Raleigh, N.C., native Garrett Hudson, who joined the Redskins during OTAs after being named to the First Team All-CAA as a redshirt sophomore at the University of Richmond. In just two months with the organization, the former college free agent has stood out greatly to his teammates.
What makes the tight end position so important to any NFL offense is its impact in multiple areas of the game. The best tight ends in the league are capable of being two-way players that can force linebackers to drop back in coverage and create space for the running backs to reach the second level of the opposing defense.
Insert the two biggest players among the tight end core in Matt Flanagan and Jeremy Sprinkle, both at over 250 pounds and standing at 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-5, respectively. With Reed and Davis serving as receiving options and having greater experience in the league, the opportunities for Flanagan and Sprinkle rest mainly on their versatility. It's one of the most important things that coach Phillips considers when deciding who will represent the tight ends this year.
"I'm always excited with my group because we've got playmakers," Phillips said. "It's one thing to have a bunch of guys that can grind out some runs, but we're all trying to be complete tight ends. That's the way I coach. We're going to have every phase, pass protection, run blocking, and pass catching. But it is fun to have guys like Vernon [Davis] and Jordan [Reed] and even [Jeremy] Sprinkle who's got talent in the pass game who can make plays and create some excitement and enthusiasm on the team."
Check out the top images from the 2018 Washington Redskins OTAs which took place at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park, presented by Loudoun Economic Development.
WHAT TO WATCH:
The Redskins used four tight ends on the 53-man roster in Davis, Reed, Paul and Sprinkle last year. With Paul now gone, those three remain near locks to land a spot this season. But with so many injuries affecting the offense last year, it's not unreasonable to think another spot could be available.
Alex Smith's play style could have a major influence when determining who will dress for Week 1 against the Arizona Cardinals.
Consistently ranking among the highest quarterbacks in terms of completion percentage, the San Diego native relies heavily on a security-blanket in the middle of the field in order to move towards the endzone. Travis Kelce's massive production in Kansas City (recording at least 67 receptions in his four years playing aside Smith) demonstrates how vital of a position the tight end is to the Utah product and ultimately the Redskins' success is this year.
"Those guys are having a blast working with Alex [Smith]," Phillips said. "Each quarterback brings a little something different to the table and they've really taken to him. He's a great leader and has been a guy that has worked with more than just Vernon [Davis]. He'll go over and talk to Garret Hudson, who we signed a couple weeks ago and tell him, I've got to hit you over there and nice job on the route. He's just being a leader. They've really enjoyed his personality and his experience in the west coast system and his timing; these balls are getting on them a little bit faster than maybe they've been accustomed to. That's not a knock on anybody that's just because this guy has been running this stuff for a long time. They're excited about it."