Fred Davis, athlete that he is, typically draws positive reviews on the practice field, and the praise has been amplified this summer. The Washington Redskins' tight end lost about 15 pounds during the offseason, and the results are clear when he releases on pass routes. To hear coaches and players tell it, Davis looks like a wide receiver.
Receivers, however, don't have to block 265-pound linebackers. That's why Davis was anxious about facing the Pittsburgh Steelers' touted linebacking corps Friday night in the preseason opener.
As it turned out, he was as good as ever. Maybe even better.
"I had to test myself out because at this weight I didn't know if I could be strong at the point, but attackingwise I feel pretty good," Davis said.
"It would have been a better test if [former NFL defensive player of the year James] Harrison was in there, but I had some blocks on [LaMarr] Woodley, pretty good ones."
The blocking by Davis and third-string tight end Logan Paulsen was one of several bright spots on offense in Washington's 16-7 victory. It was particularly important, though, because top tight end Chris Cooley is out indefinitely with soreness in his surgically repaired left knee.
If Davis and Paulsen can repeat that performance, Cooley's absence wouldn't sting as much if he ends up missing regular season games.
"We're really fortunate with tight ends we have," tight ends coach Sean McVay said. "It's a deep position."
The proof was evident Friday. On the Redskins' first drive, Davis's proper footwork helped him turn linebacker Jason Worilds out toward the left sideline to open a lane for running back Tim Hightower's 16-yard gain. He did the same thing to Woodley on the next play, and Hightower ran for 11 yards.
Apparently, being lighter doesn't just help Davis get open for passes.
"Usually I didn't attack as much, but now I feel like I've got to attack a little bit more at the point of attack," Davis said. "I've got to get on a guy quick, and I'm athletic enough to stay with him, move my feet and get my hands inside."
Said McVay: "He might have lost some weight, but he didn't lose any strength. He's able to get into guys."
Paulsen has significantly improved since barely making the team as an undrafted free agent last year. He played in the final 10 games last season and is building on that experience this summer. With Cooley sidelined, he played with the first-string offense in two-tight-end formations.
Both players believe their knowledge of the offense in coach Mike Shanahan's second season is positioning them to be effective blockers.
"It's night and day just in terms of my comfort level with the offense and my assignments," Paulsen said. "It's allowing me to play quicker, and when you play quick you put yourself at an advantage over the defender.
"Last year if you were watching when I was in, I'm getting off the ball late. I'm unsure. I'm a little tentative. Friday night I was demonstrative, assertive and knew where I was going. It was way more fun that way."
Physically, Paulsen is working on perfecting his hand placement. A blocker's goal is to get his hands inside his opponent's. That is a position of strength.
"Chris has a great philosophy," Paulsen said. "You just stare at his chest and punch him right in the chest and that will get your hands there."
The two of them will have plenty of opportunities to work on technique during the rest of the preseason while Cooley is sidelined.
"It's tough not having him out at practice because he sees the game in such a unique way," Paulsen said. "He's got eight years of experience. Not having his perspective out here on the field is detrimental, but obviously getting more reps in the offense is important, too."
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