- Associated Press - Thursday, December 17, 2015

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) - Heading into this season, Jordan Reed knew, and the Washington Redskins knew, that pass-catching and route-running were not the problem.

Staying on the field was.

In his first two years in the NFL, the tight end played in a grand total of 20 of 32 games. So far this season? He’s appeared in 11 of 13 games for the NFC East-leading Redskins (6-7), and he enters Sunday’s game against the visiting Buffalo Bills (6-7) leading his club with 67 catches, 694 yards receiving and seven touchdowns.

“I knew if I could stay healthy, that I could produce,” Reed said. “I have confidence in my ability and I work hard to be able to perform. So I believe in myself.”

So do his coaches and teammates.

“A good tight end is a quarterback’s best friend. I think we all know that,” left tackle Trent Williams said. “So to have a guy like that, who constantly gets open and (is) as sure-handed as he is, it’s a life saver, man. Words can’t explain how much that helps us out.”

It was Williams who suggested to Reed that he join the lineman at offseason workouts in Houston. Several NFL players gather there year after year, including Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.

“I came to him with the proposition, but obviously it was all on him to come down and drop everything he was doing and work hard and stick with it,” Williams said. “It was my idea, but he made everything happen.”

By spending about a month with those folks, Reed put himself in position to be in better shape and avoid the sorts of soft tissue and muscle problems that plagued him in the recent past.

Reed said he learned about training and treatment and participated in 4-hour workouts.

“It really paid off,” Reed said. “I felt in the best shape of my life coming into this season.”

He’s become quarterback Kirk Cousins’ preferred target, particularly in the red zone. In last week’s 24-21 victory over the Chicago Bears, Reed had nine catches for 120 yards and a TD.

That left him second among the NFL’s tight ends in receptions, behind only Delanie Walker of the Titans, and ahead of such stars as Rob Gronkowski, Greg Olsen and Jason Witten.

“He’s elite at his position, and what we need him to do, he does it at a high, high level,” Cousins said. “For me as a quarterback, I’m a distributor. I need those guys to get open. I need time to throw. Jordan makes my job easy, because he gets open and he makes plays.

“What’s exciting is how he’s been able to stay healthy and be consistently productive,” Cousins continued, “whereas, I feel like in the past, you didn’t know if you were going to have him because of injuries.”

NOTES: WR Andre Roberts missed practice Thursday because of a lingering knee injury, and coach Jay Gruden said Roberts had an MRI exam to figure out the extent of the problem. “We’ve got to check that. It might be a meniscus issue right there. We’re just trying to see if he can finish the season with it or if he has to go have surgery,” Gruden said. “I think we’ll make that determination here shortly.” … RB Chris Thompson (shoulder) was limited in practice and Gruden called his status a “wild card.” Said Gruden: “Without doing any contact drills, it’s hard to say with Chris.”

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Online:

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and AP NFL Twitter feed: www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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