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Commanders' TEs standing out 'for all the right reasons'


Sam Howell dropped back on the first snap of two-minute drills, looking for an option that would help the Washington Commanders' offense move down the field. 

Howell looked to his right and saw Logan Thomas near the sideline. He was covered by Khaleke Hudson, but Howell decided to give the 6-foot-6, 250-pound tight end a chance to make a play over the 6-foot, 220-pound linebacker. 

The faith paid off. Thomas reached out for the ball and snagged it before Hudson could bat it away, giving the offense a decent gain to start the series. 

Eric Bieniemy has brought several changes to the Commanders' offense since being hired as the coordinator, and the tight ends' increased usage is one of the most prevalent. The hope is that they will make reliable targets for Howell as he works to earn the starting quarterback role this offseason, and Bieniemy has high hopes for all the team's options at the position. 

"The tight end room is doing a heck of a job," Bieniemy said. "In fact, those guys have stood out for all the right reasons."

Bieniemy called his version of the West Coast offense a "tight end friendly" system, and the numbers that players have put up in recent years are clear evidence of that. Eight-time Pro Bowler and seven-time All-Pro Travis Kelce is Exhibit A; he has seven consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, and he's coming off the second-best receiving campaign (1,338 yards) of his career.

Kelce is in his own stratosphere when it comes to the top tight ends playing right now, even though he will be 34 years old when the 2023 season begins, but it seems that Washington is trying to create something similar with Thomas as its top option at the position.

Thomas, who dealt with injuries in 2021 and 2022, has become of Howell's favorite targets, particularly in red zone drills, where he's been able to use his size and find holes in coverage to make plays. Plays like the one he made during two-minute drills are becoming more commonplace for him, and he looks closer to the 2020 version of himself, when he caught 72 passes for 670 yards, than he has in recent memory.

"It gives me a leg up compared to where I was last year," Thomas said. "Got a little bit of my explosiveness back. I'm able to launch a little better than I was. I'm excited just to be out here working with the guys getting better and learning a new offense."

Check out the best photos of the Washington Commanders as they went through their OTA practice earlier today. (Photos by Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)

Thomas has been dealing with knee and rib injuries for the past two seasons, but he said he feels more confident in his body going through two weeks of OTAs. That trust in himself has shown on the field, too.

"Just being able to go out there and make cuts that I wasn't exactly comfortable making last year and making them completely normal this year," Thomas said.

Rivera has multiple times that he feels Thomas is truly healthy this year, but he isn't the only tight end who battled injury last year. Prior to his hamstring injury, Cole Turner was one of the more intriguing stories because of his knack for getting open in the red zone. The injury took Turner off the field for an extended amount of time, though, and while he did return, his usage was limited.

It appears that Turner is fully healthy as well, and he has received plenty of looks from both Howell and Jacoby Brissett. Last week, he created some separation from Hudson on a rote near the sideline and hauled in a pass from Howell for a 30-yard gain.

"I really like where I'm at physically," Turner said at the Commanders' Media Day. "My body fat's down to four or five percent. I really like where I'm at running my routes, too."

And when it comes to Bieniemy's offense, Turner said he can "absolutely" feel the increased attention to the tight ends.

"He's giving us a lot of chances that we weren't getting beforehand and giving everyone a shot to do what they do best and put guys in good position to show what their skill set is really all about," Turner said.

That philosophy of giving players more opportunity should benefit a player like Curtis Hodges, who also had a strong 2022 training camp but sat out of the regular season with injury. Hodges, an undrafted free agent from Arizona State, was largely viewed as a project last year but showed his potential as a pass-catcher at various points of the offseason.

Like everyone on offense, Hodges has gotten some tough coaching from Bieniemy, but he looks healthy and made some clutch catches in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills.

And like Turner, Hodges can sense how often tight ends are going to be used in Bieniemy's offense.

"We're catching a lot of balls, running a lot of routes," Hodges said. "That was something to get used to off the first week, but the second week was easier. You noticed it Day 1."

The workload is going to be heavier with all the Commanders' tight ends on the roster, especially now that they're all healthy. Bieniemy is confident they can handle it.

"These guys are hardworking, got a lot of veterans in that group," Bieniemy said. "I think from top down, the depth is pretty good, and I'm just proud of where we are at this particular point in time."

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