Washington Football Team tight end John Bates’ involvement in the offense continues to increase as he gains experience in the NFL, and it's about to grow even more on Sunday.
The rookie tight end out of Boise State is coming off a career-high, three-reception, 25-yard performance in Washington's 29-19 victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Sunday at FedEx Field. And with Logan Thomas on Injured Reserve and Ricky Seals-Jones ruled out for Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers, Bates is set to make his first-career start.
Bates also played on 64% of the offensive snaps. That marked the highest in his career and a substantial increase from the previous five games where he played less than 25% of the snaps.
His most impactful play came with Washington facing a 3rd-and-4 at midfield in the third quarter, looking to recapture momentum after Tampa Bay scored a touchdown on the previous drive. With time to throw, Taylor Heinicke found Bates up the seam for an 18-yard gain as he found a crease between the Buccaneers linebackers and safeties.
"I was really encouraged with the way that John came in, had a couple of big plays," offensive coordinator Scott Turner said. "That third down conversion, obviously on our second to last touchdown drive in the game was huge. They'd cut it to three points and a big third down 18-yard gain. I thought he blocked well. It wasn't too big for him."
Bates isn't the only young tight end in the room, learning the nuances of the position from tight ends coach Pete Hoener. Although Bates played the position at the collegiate level, the speed and athleticism of NFL defenders is vastly different from college. That becomes particularly evident near the line of scrimmage in blocking situations, where proper footwork and taking the correct angles are vitally important.
While that adjustment to the increased speed of the NFL game can be challenging, Bates has improved week-to-week since being drafted. An integral part of that development has been working with Hoener, coaching his 22nd season in the NFL. Hoener has worked with some of the NFL's premier tight ends, including Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker and Greg Olsen.
"I think each week I've tried to get better with the opportunities I get and coach Hoener has been great in my development and I've been really grateful for that," Bates said of his development. "I feel like I've been getting better every week."
The Washington Football Team wraps up its second day of preparations ahead of its Week 11 road game against the Carolina Panthers (Photos by Emilee Fails and Karlee Sell/Washington Football Team)
Adjusting to the difference in playing time is another aspect of the NFL transition that can be challenging for many young players. In college, Bates was an integral part of Boise State's offense with 47 receptions for 579 yards and two touchdowns in 23 career games.
Yet, early in the season, Bates was slotted behind both Thomas and Seals-Jones on the depth chart. However, with both players dealing with injuries, Bates will play a larger role on Sunday against Carolina both as a blocker and receiver. Continuing to evolve as a pass catcher, recognizing coverages is an essential part of Bates' development.
His performance against the Buccaneers also garnered praise from head coach Ron Rivera, who believes Bates will embrace the challenge.
"John stepped up last week and it was really good to see," Rivera said. "He played very well, did a lot of good things for us. I mean, he was part of that 19-play drive and he was very instrumental in a lot of things that happened -- blocking, route running, catching the ball, so we feel pretty good about that."
Processing coverages quicker allows Bates to formulate his route depending on if the defense is in man or zone coverage. That recognition is paramount at the NFL level where the defense's speed is increased and the window to catch passes in is often far righter. Entering Sunday in Charlotte with possibly the largest role of his young career, Bates remains focused on continuing to grow in all facets of the tight end position.
"I think just overall development from when I first came in to where I'm at now," Bates said of his growth since arriving in Washington. "Just taking every little thing seriously, trying to become the best tight end that I can be. I think I've gotten a lot better in every aspect since I've been here."