Jeremy Sprinkle was initially seen as a blocking tight end, and that's primarily how the Redskins used him during his first two NFL seasons. In a combined 27 games, Sprinkle caught seven passes for 54 yards and two touchdowns.
However, injuries have thrust Sprinkle into a bigger role to start the 2019 campaign. Starting tight end Jordan Reed has been sidelined since suffering a concussion in the third preseason game Aug. 22, and there's no timetable for his return. Vernon Davis replaced Reed as the No. 1 tight end and performed well in his absence, catching 10 passes for 123 yards and a score in three games. But after a Week 4 loss to the New York Giants, Davis entered concussion protocol and missed practice all week.
With Reed and Davis both ruled out for Week 5 against New England, Sprinkle will serve as the Redskins' No. 1 tight end for the first time in his career Sunday. It's an opportunity he's patiently waited for and one he expects to take full advantage of.
"It's definitely exciting," Sprinkle said Friday. "You work so hard to get here, and obviously you want to start, so even though it is through the injuries, you always want to get your opportunities to go out there and shine."
Through four weeks, Sprinkle has been much more involved in the passing game since coming to Washington. He's already caught as many passes (five) as he had all of last season, and his 58 receiving yards are more than his first two seasons combined. He'll have plenty of chances to add to these totals Sunday.
Sprinkle has played 35.6% of the team's snaps this season, but that number could double if the Redskins use him as their primary tight end against the Patriots. Davis, who assumed that role to start the year, has played 75.5% of the team's snaps so far in 2019.
"We'll have to adjust a little bit, but Sprinkle has been playing a lot of football and he can slide right in there," head coach Jay Gruden said Monday. "Obviously, [tight end Jerome] Cunningham we got last week -- he's picking it up -- so we still have a couple tight end sets and the one-tight end set, so we're good to go."
With the possibility of an increased workload, Sprinkle's game preparation has been a little different this week. He's been on the field more during third-down situations in practice, working on his releases against press coverage and maintaining leverage in other passing situations. And while he's still absorbing the same information in positional meetings, he knows he'll be responsible for executing a wider range of tasks against the Patriots.
"Just continuing to work on the details of everything and continue to get in the playbook and make sure I have all of the details cleaned up, certain routes [the other tight ends] had that I never had," Sprinkle said. "I feel like throughout the week, I've done a good job showing them that I can step in and do a good job and fill that spot."
A look back at some of the images in games between the Washington Redskins and New England Patriots.
On Sunday, Sprinkle will be looked upon to contribute for an offense that did not score a touchdown last week versus the New York Giants, who entered the matchup with the NFL's worst passing defense. He'll be catching passes from longtime Redskin Colt McCoy, who was named the Week 5 starter on Friday, and will hopefully be able to divert some attention away from wide receivers Paul Richardson and Trey Quinn. The Redskins are also hoping to have rookie Terry McLaurin back after missing the Giants' game with a hamstring injury.
Sprinkle is up for the task. Since entering the league in 2017, he's yearned to prove he's more than a one-dimension tight end. He's worked on getting off the line of scrimmage faster, gaining more separation in his routes and using his 6-foot-6 frame to his advantage. He's also received plenty of tips from Reed and Davis, both of whom have been premier receivers throughout their careers.
Sunday will be Sprinkle's latest chance to show what he's learned.
"Just being able to be out there and not have the defenses see me out there and think, 'Oh, they're going to run or play action,'" Sprinkle said. "I feel like just being more balanced and being able to show my full game and being an all-around tight end."