The Washington Commanders were running through red zone drills when Antonio Gandy-Golden, now a tight end, flashed his wide receiver roots.
Gandy-Golden, who reported to OTAs weighing nearly 240 pounds, made a leaping catch over a defender for a touchdown. The pass-catching part of his new position was something he picked up quickly; while he hasn't made many acrobatic catches in NFL games yet, it happened often when he was the star wideout for Liberty.
Gandy-Golden proved during OTAs and minicamp that he could handle that part of being a tight end; blocking is another story, and Ron Rivera said how he develops in that area will determine whether he can find a role for himself.
Fortunately, the third-year pro made some strides in that area, and he's been able to lean on his teammates for guidance.
"I think he's coming along really well with it," said fellow tight end John Bates. "Obviously, it's a really hard thing to make that transition, but he's an athlete. He's a fast learner."
Gandy-Golden could learn plenty from Bates when it comes to clearing running lanes. According to Pro Football Focus’ metrics, Bates, a fifth-round pick in 2021, was the best run-blocking tight end in the NFL with a grade of 84.2.
Bates said Gandy-Golden already has the size and strength to be an effective blocking tight end. Now, he needs to focus on mastering the techniques. That aspect is huge, Bates said, and he feels like its an overlooked part of blocking.
"If you don't have correct technique, you're gonna get beat on the majority of the plays. So when it comes down to it, having the proper technique and targets and angles is everything."
Gandy-Golden has been enthusiastic about learning the finer points of being a tight end. He's been asking Bates and the rest of the tight end room for pointers, which is a good sign, considering how many resources he has at his disposal. Not only do the Commanders' tight ends have a diverse background -- many played other positions -- but they can ask players at other positions for tips as well.
'We can pick each other's brains and ask them what they see or think about a certain thing," Bates said. "We also have the ability to go up to offensive linemen and get their perspective on blocking."
Rivera had his eye on Gandy-Golden as he went from one position group to the next during individual drills. And yes, it was an offseason practice with no pads, but he could see improvements.
"You see his blocking technique in terms of his footwork, his hand placement, the way he's setting himself and being in a good football position," Rivera said.
One thing that has impressed Rivera has been Gandy-Golden's willingness to learn. He's been "jumping in and giving it a real go," and it's paid off for him.
"We wanna make sure he knows those assignments and where he is headed," Rivera said. "We know his skillset as a receiver. It's the size that we really like. To be a guy that can run and play basically the U or the F position for us. We feel pretty good about what he's bringing to the table right now, but it will come down to his ability to block."
The real test for Gandy-Golden will come during training camp when the pads come on and he'll have to fight for a roster spot in an already talented tight end room. However, if he can master the blocking portion of his new responsibilities, he has as a good shot to make his case.
All reports indicate that he's off to a good start.
"If you have some size and some athletic ability and you are a guy that has ball skills, I think you can transition very well to that position," Rivera said.