It was an easy decision for the Washington Commanders' new tight ends coach Juan Castillo to join Ron Rivera’s coaching staff. He's known the head coach since their days together in Philadelphia, and the two have a deep respect for each other.
It also helps that he sees plenty of potential in his position.
"It's a really good group," Castillo said during his Wednesday introductory press conference. "I'm excited."
Former tight ends coach Pete Hoener, who retired from coaching last week, turned a group that only accounted for 467 yards in 2019 into a key piece of Washington's offense. Logan Thomas has become one of the better players at the position, while young talents like John Bates and Sammis Reyes have shown signs of growth in their young careers.
And from what he's seen, he has a good foundation to continue their development.
"There's no need to take away," Castillo said. "Just add to the things that he [Hoener] was teaching."
Castillo didn't need to ask too many questions about Thomas, because he already has an idea of what kind of player the quarterback-turned-tight end can be for an offense. He was coaching for the Buffalo Bills when Thomas first made the position switch in 2017. There was a lot that Thomas had to learn about his new role, but it was clear to Castillo that he had the tools to be a solid player.
He became more than that once he signed with Washington in 2020, as he finished that season with 670 yards and six touchdowns. His effectiveness is not a surprise at all to Castillo, who said Thomas has "god-given ability."
"We have a good relationship," Castillo said, "and [I'm] just excited when we get back on the field to keep growing and keep developing and just get him even better than he was last year."
But Thomas isn't the only player Castillo is anxious to work with. He's already watched film on the Commanders' other tight ends, including second-year pro Bates. He was thrust into an expanded role one Thomas and Ricky Seals-Jones went down with injury. He didn't drop a pass until Week 12 against the Las Vegas Raiders, and he averaged nearly 10 yards per target.
That's not all that gets Castillo excited the most, though. Bates finished the season as the highest-graded run-blocking rookie tight end by Pro Football Focus, and it was clear to Castillo that the former Boise State Bronco "really came on last year."
"I think he could be one of the better run-blocking, pass-protecting tight ends in the NFL," Castillo said. "And then catching the ball, he's a big body."
When it comes to Reyes, Castillo has already met with him and listed off some areas that he wants to help him improve upon. Castillo has worked with several players like Reyes, who have traits but need more development, and in his experience, one of the top priorities is to establish a level of trust.
"Get them to know that you care about them, and get them to understand that they have to outwork everybody," Castillo said. "He's [Reyes] a talented kid."
Reyes, who hadn't even played the sport until last year, didn't have a catch in his rookie year, but his role did increase as the season progressed. He mostly contributed on special teams, but he did get 39 snaps on offense.
Castillo shouldn't have to worry about Reyes shying away from work, either. In fact, it's been one of his strong qualities since joining Washington's roster.
"You've got to bring it out every single play," Reyes said during training camp. "You're not going to win every time you bring that energy and that physicality. But you've got to bring it every single play because the guy on the other team wants to crush you, right? So it's either you or him. And in my mind, it's going to be me every time."
It doesn't seem like Castillo will be using the colorful language that Hoener was known for to motivate his players, but there are some similarities between the two, namely how hard they expect their players to work.
"I think the bottom line is to be able to help the guys develop and play well so that we can win," Castillo said. "So whatever has to get done will get done."