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Everything Pete Hoener Looks For In Backup Tight Ends

Ricky Seals-Jones hauls in a catch during Washington's minicamp. (Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)
Ricky Seals-Jones hauls in a catch during Washington's minicamp. (Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)

In an ideal world, tight ends coach Pete Hoener would like to have three versions of Logan Thomas to fill out his position group, but seeing as he views Thomas as one of the Top 7 all-around tight ends in the league, that might be a little unlikely.

Instead, Washington will have to deal with the likes of Deon Yelder, Ricky Seals-Jones, John Bates and Sammis Reyes among others. Judging by the amount of talent in the room, they aren't bad substitutes, either.

Washington's search for a supporting cast of tight ends includes rookies with upside to more seasoned veterans. They all have certain tools, but what exactly does Hoener want from whichever players end up behind Thomas on the depth chart? Like Thomas' skillset, the answer involves a little of everything.

"What you do is you get your next-best one as a complete tight end and develop him," Hoener said. "He has to be the same type of guy."

Most people know Thomas for what he did as a receiver in his first season as a No. 1 tight end -- 72 receptions for 670 yards and six touchdowns -- but he works just as hard as a blocker. It's a skill that he's developed since his days with the Lions, when he would ask coaches to put plays in the weekly game plan just so he could block.

Yelder and Seals-Jones are two of the more experienced options in that area. Blocking isn't as natural to Seals-Jones, considering he started as a receiver, but he did get praise from former Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks for his improvement in the area in 2018. Yelder was called the Chiefs' best blocking tight end outside of Travis Kelce by USA Today’s Charles Goldman, and he was given a 75.8 pass blocking grade by Pro Football Focus.

Bates, while a rookie, might already be one of Washington's better run blockers. His former Boise State coaches and players rave about his physicality, and former Washington tight end Logan Paulsen said his footwork and hands are “things that a lot of college tight ends don’t have.” He looked good in minicamp, but Hoener wants to hold off on evaluating the rookie further until training camp begins.

"I need to see them in pads," Hoener said. "I need to see them when it gets hot out there. I need to see them when the intensity is up...and see how they react."

When it comes to pass-catching, Hoener wants his tight ends to make plays when called upon. Bates and Yelder have shown flashes of that in small sample sizes, but Seals-Jones has been the most successful with 773 yards and eight touchdowns in four seasons. He's also averaged 12.9 yards per reception for his career.

"If I'm a coach," Paulsen said, "That's a guy that I think, 'Man, maybe we can get [Seals-Jones and Thomas] on the field at the same time.'"

Reyes is the biggest unknown factor among the entire group. The past month was his first time truly playing the professional game in any sense, but he has raw talent that Hoener praises. As one would expect, it was a mixed performance in minicamp. He made difficult receptions and had passes hit his helmet. He's shown dedication to learning his assignments as well as taken several colorful coaching points from Hoener.

Reyes is making progress, but like Bates, it will be critical to see how he does in a live setting.

"He's got the right attitude," Hoener said. "Obviously [he's] a hard, hard worker. It's very important to him to make this. He's diligent, and he's learning the offense. Again, it'll just take time to see."

As for the third or fourth tight ends, depending on how many Washington keeps, those roles are filled by role players who can work out of the backfield or fill other needs. All of Washington's tight ends, including Reyes, could fit that requirement as long as their development continues and perform well in training camp.

"Some of them are better blockers than maybe the first two, so they go in there in a four-minute situation or goal line or short yardage and do the blocking for you," Hoener said.

Clearly, Washington wants to find someone else beside Thomas to rely upon at tight. It's likely there are six other players at the position on the roster, five of which were not with the team last year. And somewhere in that mix of talent and experience, Hoener is confident more options will emerge.

"We need someone to come through in that manner," Hoener said. "We'll find somebody."