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Paul's Progress Bodes Well For Next Season


As the Redskins prepare for the offseason after clinching their first NFC East title since 1999, they have time to evaluate the successes of the 2012 season. The team rode a seven game winning streak into the playoffs before succumbing to the Seattle Seahawks in a bitter 24-14 defeat.

While there were many Redskins who posted career-high numbers, setting team and league records in the process, not every player will stand out on the stat sheet, despite their success.

One such player is converted tight end and special teams standout Niles Paul.

The 6-1, 233-pound Redskin was drafted by the team in the fifth round (155th overall) in the 2011 NFL Draft.

Paul was a wide receiver during his collegiate days at the University of Nebraska was drafted to play the same position with the Redskins.

In his first season with the team, Paul hauled in only two passes for 25 yards at receiver. While those numbers do not jump off the board, the coaching staff was highly impressed with his blocking skills, and even had play some tight end at the end of the 2011 season.

As a result, the team decided to incorporate his physicality with his pass-catching abilities and moved him to tight end.

Paul went through the learning curve during offseason workouts and gradually developed at his new position. To aid in the process, he gained 13 points of muscle to his athletic frame.

He took the preseason as an opportunity to learn the position and grow. He tallied 42 yards on six catches during the preseason, including a 25-yard, four catch performance at Chicago.

When the regular season started, Paul was second on the depth chart behind teammate Fred Davis. However, when Davis tore his left Achilles' tendon in Week 7 of the regular season, Paul was asked to have an expanded role in the offense.

In the two games after Davis went down, Paul flashed his big play ability, hauling in two catches for 59 yards.

Paul's offensive highlight of the year came against the archrival Dallas Cowboys, in the team's 38-31 win on Thanksgiving.

At the start of the fourth quarter, the Redskins led 28-13. However, on a third-and-inches on the Dallas 29-yard line, Paul found himself alone downfield, catching what would ultimately be the game-clinching touchdown, the first of his career.

Paul would go on to finish the season with eight catches for 152 yards and a touchdown.

"[Tight ends coach] Sean [McVay] explained it to me like this," Paul said. "This season, it was my rookie year all over again, because it was my rookie year as a tight end."

Paul's play caught the attention of his own coaches as well as opponents coach's as they praised his transition to his new role.

"[Coach McVay] told me that he was very proud of the way I handled it," Paul said. "He told me after games that a lot of coaches would come up to him and [say] 'You've done a great job with turning a wide receiver into a tight end, especially so soon. We didn't think it was possible.'"

Paul supplemented his role on offense with increased responsibilities on all four special teams units.

In the team's week six 38-26 win over the Minnesota Vikings, Paul had a bone crushing hit on punt return coverage.

"I just knew that was my opportunity to get down there, kicking it to my side, and make a big play," he said of the single coverage.  "I didn't see [Vikings returner Marcus Sherels] fair catch it, so I just took my shot."

In early December, he took over kickoff return duties from Brandon Banks and had decent success down the stretch of the season.

In the fourth quarter of the team's week 17 winner-take-all matchup against the Cowboys, Paul had a clutch 48 yard punt return that put the Redskins close to midfield, up by three points with under six minutes remaining in the game.

At the start of the season, Paul knew that the Redskins would improve on their 5-11 finish from the season before, with quality pieces being added to the offense.

"Just having guys like [wide receiver] Pierre Garçon and [quarterback] Robert Griffin III in the locker room made a big difference this year." Paul said. "Their attitude and their demeanor they brought to the field kind of affected everybody."

This offseason, the Redskins offense has the opportunity to gel as a unit as the team is returning many of its starters. Paul himself, is looking at the opportunity to continue to expand in his role in the offense.

Especially with Davis's uncertainty as a prospective free agent, Paul's development could give the Redskins flexibility at the tight end position.

"I definitely want to keep growing from here and become a complete tight end."

While the Redskins secured their first division title in 13 years and their first playoff appearance since 2007, Paul knows that the team ultimately fell short of their goal: winning the Super Bowl.

He was left with a sour taste in his mouth about coming up short and is putting this season behind him.  

"You've got to have short-term memory in the NFL," Paul said. "It gives us something to build on."

Paul has a message for the fans for next season as the team looks to advance farther into the playoffs next year.

"I think the Washington Redskins will be just fine in the future."




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