- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 22, 2012

It was the night before Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe addressed his former coach’s Washington Redskins, and there was one particular player in need of some advice.

Niles Paul was making the switch from wide receiver to tight end, so he went out to dinner in the District with Sharpe, who starred under Mike Shanahan with the Denver Broncos.

“I picked his brain a little bit about some advice he had for me about my transition,” Paul said. “You’re not going to win every battle out there, because obviously there’s guys a lot bigger than me, he said. “The key is not letting that man touch the running back; that’s my job, to protect the running back and the quarterback. And he said being a smaller tight end, I can’t get in there and try to tussle up with those guys. I can’t be in there like a pinball in a pinball machine.”

Paul welcomed the transition to tight end as a way of contributing to the offense, though the 23-year-old still has plenty to learn. Almost everything is an adjustment.

He appears to be catching on: Paul caught four passes for 25 yards and a touchdown in the Redskins’ 33-31 loss at Chicago on Saturday. He had one reception for 11 yards in the exhibition opener at Buffalo.

Washington Redskins tight end Niles Paul (84), second from left, stands in line to run a drill in the team's indoor training facility during mini camp at Redskins Park, Ashburn, Va., Tuesday, June 12, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
Washington Redskins tight end Niles Paul (84), second from left, stands in ... more >

Niles is coming along quickly. He’s going to be a great player. I think there’s no doubt about that,” veteran tight end Chris Cooley said. “You just see his ability as an athlete and his want-to and his work ethic, and it’s so apparent that he’ll be a good football player. It’s basically like being a rookie again. He’s learning the offense completely new in a completely new position.”

Paul expressed no reservations about the position switch. Before he knew of the plan to make him a tight end, the 2011 fifth-round pick out of Nebraska was a heavier-than-normal receiver.

Going back to college, he said he always puts weight on during the offseason and has to drop it.

“[Strength and conditioning coach Ray Wright] called me and asked me how much I weighed. I was afraid to tell him I’m about 234 right now,” Paul recalled. “He was like, ‘Good. Stay at that.’ That’s when Coach Shanahan called me and asked me if I wanted to play tight end.”

Paul took that as a sign of respect, that a Super Bowl-winning coach who did so with Sharpe believed he could make that transition.

“He’s a natural football player. There’s a guy 235 pounds and runs like a wide receiver,” Shanahan said during training camp. “He could be a punt returner or kickoff returner. You could put him in the backfield as a running back. He’s got that type of athletic ability. Play any position on special teams. Those guys are hard to find, especially guys that are extremely bright and very dedicated.”

Dedication and willingness are there. Paul doesn’t have to wade amid a flood of receivers trying to justify a roster spot; instead his potential at tight end is worth salivating over.

But it’s not that easy. Sure he knew how to catch, but blocking was the big concern.

“First day I was watching Cowboys film [saying], ‘Y’all want me to block these big men?”’ Paul said. “They encouraged me, they pulled me aside, Cooley especially, and said, ‘You can do this. It may look hard. At the end of the day, once you get in your zone and you get your leverage, it’s not as bad as it looks.”’

It helped Paul that he still has 7 percent body fat and more muscle mass, giving him confidence to block big defenders.

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