Before he was drafted by the Washington Redskins in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL Draft, Niles Paul was told that if he wanted to have a long career, he must be willing to do whatever the coaches ask of him.
Fast forward to 2014, and Paul has seen action at wide receiver, tight end and fullback on the offense, and has become a key contributor on special teams.
Entering his fourth season with the Redskins, Paul said that despite being asked to learn several different positions and concepts, he's comfortable on the field.
"I feel completely different from my rookie year with knowing my responsibilities," Paul told Redskins.com. "I used to be lost out there when I was trying to make the team, but I know my playbook and I feel like a real veteran on special team and on offense."
While some players become entrenched in a single mindset and a certain way of playing the game, Paul is always willing to try different things to help the team win.
"Anybody who knows me or is a true fan of the Redskins knows I will do whatever I can for this team no matter what it is," Paul explained. "Playing on the field, whether it's at fullback or tight end or wide receiver, I'll play it.
"I've been fortunate to have starts at all these positions, which is crazy. I never thought about that growing up."
During Paul's first two seasons as a tight end, he had position coach Sean McVay at his disposal. By soaking up his knowledge of how to play the tight end position, Paul said he was "beyond blessed" to have McVay there as he learned different techniques, most notably as he progressed as a blocker.
In January, though, McVay was promoted to the team's offensive coordinator, and Paul and the rest of the tight ends got a new tight ends coach in Wes Phillips.
Paul said that both McVay and Phillips bring a lot to the table, and is glad he can learn from each.
"The great part about having Sean as the offensive coordinator is he knows all of us," Paul said. "He knows what we bring to the table. He's going to give us all the opportunity to show what we can do all through minicamp and throughout training camp.
"Coach Phillips is a completely different type of coach, in my opinion. He really puts a lot of responsibility on our shoulders as men to come out here prepared to work every day. He pushes us. ... Even though they are different, and I loved being coached by Sean, coach Phillips is a great coach. He's getting us right and you can see it when comes to footwork and blocking technique."
In 44 career games, Paul has recorded 14 receptions for 228 yards, including a memorable 29-yard touchdown reception against Dallas in Week 12 of the 2012 season. During that span he's also been credited with 40 special teams tackles — third-most behind former Redskins Lorenzo Alexander (a Pro Bowler in 2012) and Reed Doughty.
Paul said he was constantly seeking further understanding of various special teams techniques from those two veteran leaders during their time in Washington, and now, the former University of Nebraska Cornhusker has taken on a similar role with the current Redskins special teamers.
"It comes with the territory," Paul said. "Guys feed off of me and see how I play and how I've always played. I've been fortunate enough to play with guys like Reed and Lorenzo and learn from them.
"Now, I've got guys like Akeem Jordan and Adam Hayward, and I'm still learning from them. We all feed off each other out there."
In 2012, Paul had one of the highlight moments on special teams in any regular season game when he clobbered Minnesota Vikings returner Marcus Sherels as soon as he caught the ball.
It was an extremely intense moment that new special teams coordinator of which Ben Kotwica, a former Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, wants to see more.
"On the first day of special teams meetings he had a sign up on the board that said, 'Who wants to join the Special Forces?,' and you know he's a military guy," Paul said. "He's getting everybody to buy in to what he is selling. We are starting to believe in his system and what he brings to the table.
"Guys really want to play for him and put their bodies on the line for him and his special teams unit."
Feeding off Kotwica's passion, Paul said he's already seen a difference in the pride being taken by those who are on the team's various special teams units.
"I think just from OTAs and minicamp, there's a huge difference in the pride that has been taken going into the season," he said. "I think you will see it on the field."