Cole Turner was one of the biggest standouts for the Washington Commanders during last year's OTAs, minicamp and training camp, and the second-year tight end is turning heads once again.
"He's one of those guys that's kind of built for an offense like this," Logan Thomas said in May.
Turner, a fifth-round pick by the Commanders in 2022, has been one of the more frequently targeted pass-catchers in practice. Some of that is a credit to Eric Bieniemy’s offense being a tight end friendly system, but it also has to do with Turner being fully healthy for the first time in months.
Now that he's able to utilize his full skill set, Turner is looking to pick up where he left off.
"I feel like I'm at a better spot now than I was before," Turner said.
That's saying a lot, considering how strong of an impression Turner made last offseason. Turner was known for being a talented red zone target at Nevada (the majority of his touchdowns in college were scored in that area of the field), and that carried over to the NFL. Whether it was Taylor Heinicke or Carson Wentz throwing the ball to him, Turner found ways to get open and use his 6-foot-6 frame to make grabs over defenders.
But Turner sustained a hamstring injury in the second half of training camp that kept him sidelined until Week 5 of the regular season. The missed time resulted in him being a step behind his teammates, and he spent most of his time trying to make up the lost ground.
"I think that threw me off a little bit, and once the season starts picking up, it's hard to kind of break that mold of what's going on," Turner said.
The time off after the season was a benefit to Turner. He focused on his body, strengthening his hamstring and tweaking his workouts so that they were more tailored to the type of player he wants to be.
Because of that, Turner reported to OTAs down 5% in body fat and more comfortable with his body.
"I feel like I'm moving really well right now," Turner said.
Washington's quarterbacks seem to feel the same way, because they keep looking his way for positive plays. During a 7-on-7 period during OTAs, Sam Howell aired out a 30-yard pass to Turner, who created some separation from Khaleke Hudson near the sideline. On another play, this time working with Jacoby Brissett, Turner stretched out for a pass while backpedaling and got both feet in bounds before completing the pass.
Plays like that have caught the attention of the coaching staff.
"He's had a great spring," said coach Ron Rivera. "He's been here almost the entire offseason on a voluntary basis doing the things that he needs to do and develop."
The Washington Commanders were back on the field on Wednesday for the second day of mandatory minicamp. Check out the top photos from the afternoon. (Photos by Emilee Fails and Kourtney Carroll/Washington Commanders)
There should be plenty of opportunities for Turner to get a healthy number of targets once the 2023 season begins in September. Bieniemy is bringing an offense from Kansas City that likes to get the ball to tight ends. Last year, the Chiefs' tight ends accounted for one-third of all the team's targets. Granted, one of those tight ends was Travis Kelce, but it's still reasonable to predict Washington will use its tight ends more than the 98 times they were targeted in 2022.
From what Rivera has seen, Turner is getting a good grasp of the new scheme.
"He's still learning it, but he's learning it quickly and doing the things that we need to have him do to be able to help us go forward."
And if Turner can continue this upward trajectory, there could be a bounce back season in store for him.
"I'm excited to see what ends up doing this year," Thomas said.