Before the Redskins report to Richmond for training camp on July 24, I’m examining their strengths and questions at each position. Next up: tight ends.
Returning starters: Fred Davis and Logan Paulsen
Impact reserves: Niles Paul and Jordan Reed
Others: Emmanuel Ogbuehi
Notable departures: Chris Cooley (not re-signed, retiring)
New faces: Reed (third-round pick, Florida) and Ogbuehi [pronounced oh-BOY-ee] (undrafted free agent, Georgia St.)
Final cuts history: Mike Shanahan kept three in each of his first three seasons in Washington.
What to like: Fred Davis should be fully recovered from the torn left Achilles’ tendon he suffered last October. When healthy, his athleticism presents matchup problems for opposing linebackers in pass defense. Davis has good hands, runs fluid routes and is elusive after the catch. He missed the Redskins’ seven-game win streak last season, so it’s easy to envision how his return would improve a passing attack that led the NFL by averaging 7.74 yards per attempt.
Davis’ absence deepened the tight end position because Paulsen started all nine games after the injury. Now Paulsen can return to second on the depth chart with significant experience. His run blocking can be inconsistent because of leverage and hand-placement issues, but he’s strong. So when he executes blocks well, he’s a starting-caliber tight end. Paulsen is a smart player and has good hands as a receiver. He’s not the run-after-the-catch weapon Davis, Paul and Reed are, but that’s OK. He exemplifies the quality depth Shanahan has established since arriving in 2010.
Reed’s potential impact in the passing game is clear from watching his game film from Florida. He played quarterback and running back, in addition to tight end, and the Redskins hope to exploit his athleticism and create mismatches. It will be interesting to see how they move Reed within formations and using pre-snap motion to do so.
Preseason questions: The Redskins are positioned to keep four tight ends for the first time under Shanahan. Which position loses a roster spot, accordingly, won’t be clear until the 53-man roster is finalized on Aug. 31. Drafting Reed forces the numbers change, but the Redskins’ believe they could never have enough playmakers on offense.
That approach as it relates to tight ends, though, can require tradeoffs. As tight ends coach Sean McVay said in June: “You’re asking guys to compete like a lineman in the run game and in protection, and then like a wide receiver in the pass game.” Paul and Reed fit the mold of a wide receiver who creates mismatches against linebackers, but their blocking can suffer because of a size and strength disadvantage. Paulsen, on the other hand, trends toward the lineman side.
Davis’ ability to perform such a wide range of duties relatively well is why he’s the first-stringer. His fitness, however, creates some uncertainty regarding his blocking. He must prove he can anchor on his surgically-repaired Achilles and move heavier linemen.
This is Paul’s second season as a tight end after playing receiver his rookie year, and blocking remains a focus. His first season at tight end “was just a lot of thinking,” he said in June. “Last year I was just relying on my athletic ability a lot and just getting into position, but now I know my footwork. I know who exactly I’m going to. So I feel like a true tight end this year.” McVay saw improvement during spring practices: “You can see a huge difference in just his confidence, his certainty in terms of what his responsibilities are,” he said.
Reed’s blocking is a major project. Strength and size are issues. He weighed 236 pounds at the combine, compared to Davis’ listing at 247. Technique is another. Florida ran more of a gap, power scheme and was not as committed to zone blocking as the Redskins are. Some of Reed’s collegiate blocking schemes do overlap in the Redskins’ zone read, but he’s facing a formidable learning curve. And considering Reed didn’t participate in team drills during spring practices because of a left knee bruise, he seems to be a strong candidate for the gameday inactive list.