2015 certainly did not go according to plan for Niles Paul after a season-ending injury, but the tight end is eager for a bounce-back year in 2016 and be a playmaker once again.
For practically his whole life, Washington Redskins tight end Niles Paul has been defined by his ability to play football.
Dating back to his days as a four-star wide receiver at Omaha North (Neb.) High School, Paul spent falls and winters excelling on the football field.
Last August, though, that all changed for Paul in the Redskins' first preseason game against the Cleveland Browns, as he suffered a dislocation of his left ankle.
The injury forced him to miss the entire 2015 season.
It was a tough blow for Paul, as he was not only coming into his own with the Redskins, but was pegged as the team's starting tight end as well.
"It was depressing," Paul said last week during the OTAs. "I was depressed. I had never been hurt before and never had a season-ending injury, or possibly a career-ending, so to sit out a year and watch my boys go to the playoffs and knowing that I could help in certain areas hurt. It was painful, but it became motivation for me. I had my family, I had my teammates and I had people in my corner motivating me and I'm here now right on schedule. "
Indeed, just a little more than nine months after suffering the injury, Paul was back on the field for OTAs, showing no residual effects of the injury.
"I don't even think about it," Paul said. "I'm just playing ball. I got a little wrist injury that hurts me more, so I'm good. I'm just playing ball and trying to get right. "
His teammates have also noticed how quickly – and rather easily – Paul has returned.
"It's great to see him out here," fellow tight end Jordan Reed said. "He's been putting in a lot of work to get back and it's definitely showing. He's looking good. It doesn't seem like he's been hurt at all because he looks back to normal."
Check out images of veteran tight end Niles Paul during the 2015 offseason.
Now back in the fold, Paul could provide the Redskins strong blocking contributions from the tight end position along with being yet another pass-catching threat in the offense.
"You know I think we have some wide tight ends…core blocking tight ends that can compete: Logan [Paulsen], Vernon [Davis], Niles," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said. "They can all do it. Jordan [Reed] can still block at the point of attack. He's getting better at it. He can be more of a move guy. Niles can be a move guy, so we have a lot of versatility at tight end which is exciting."
Despite an entire offseason away, Paul believes he can pick up right where he left off in 2014, when he totaled career highs in receptions (39) and receiving yards (507) while also picking up his second career touchdown.
"I feel like football is a game of confidence," Paul said. "As you can see in 2014 compared to my other years, I was growing in confidence. I started to actually believe that I can play tight end in this league and I felt it. It carried into 2015 and you saw that I put in the work and earned the starting position. Now I'm here putting in work again and confident as ever and I'm ready."