- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 24, 2015

ASHBURN — Aware his role would involve more pass catching, running back Chris Thompson looked around for tips in training camp. Options of teammates to watch included wide receiver DeSean Jackson, one of NFL’s most prolific big-play threats. Wide receiver Pierre Garcon led the league in pass receptions in 2013. Second-year receiver Ryan Grant was often touted for his route-running precision.

But, it was tight end Jordan Reed who Thompson locked in on and wanted to emulate. He took mental notes on how Reed set up linebackers and safeties who tried to defend him. Reed’s ability, so long clear but stifled by injury, has moved beyond the eyes of Thompson. The rest of the league has watched him grow into one of the NFL’s best tight ends during his breakout season.

Through a career-high 12 games played this season, Reed has 74 catches, a team-high 778 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. How’s he doing it?

His past offers some clues. Reed departed New London High School in Connecticut as one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. Florida provided him a scholarship to play quarterback before switching him to wide receiver, then tight end, following a redshirt freshman season. Reed’s time as a quarterback, though at a much lower level, provided him a sense of the position and relationships between receivers and a quarterback.

His prior time on the basketball floor may be the greatest benefit. The 6-foot-2, 237-pound Reed often uses a hard jab step to work inside of a linebacker or safety. He’s emulating an in-and-out dribble move without the ball.

“If a guy is leaning on you [in basketball], if you give him a quick head and shoulders and footwork, you might get him to go that way,” Reed said. “I use the same type of principles on the field.”

Linebackers, in particular, are having a hard time with Reed. That’s why he is seeing them on the other side of the line of scrimmage less often. Reed said the Chicago Bears twice defended him with a linebacker, but the matchup is increasingly more rare. Typically, he is opposed by safeties.

“I feel like I can use that same kind of basketball stuff,” Reed said. “They fall for the same kinds of moves, too.”

Inside linebacker Will Compton has worked the challenge of defending Reed. He encapsulated the experience like this:

“I’ve definitely won a couple times, but he’s routed me up,” Compton said. “He’s routed everybody up. It’s what he does. My practice squad year, I had to cover him all the time. It sucked.”

Reed, Compton explained, capitalizes with movement and lack thereof. Off the line, when Reed “stems,” he does not tip his ultimate direction, leaving his defender in a reactionary, and not predictive, state. At the top of the route, he makes his hard move, often across the face of a defender, cutting inside of him.

Linebackers like Compton are “trying to stay inside-out all the time.” Meaning, if Reed breaks into an out route, the linebacker wants to be stepping away with him in order to break up a pass. Trouble is, that’s the exact hard sell Reed often makes with his basketball move — the hard jab step, head motion and shoulder lean.

“So when he hits you to kind of go outside, you’re kind of trying to break to go through his body,” Compton said. “Then he comes back across your face, so there’s not really a whole lot … I don’t know.”

Compton said more than once he doesn’t think anyone can defend Reed.

Tight ends coach Wes Phillips is in his second season working with Reed. Small things have improved. At times in the past, Reed would “win” his matchup, but do so at the cost to rhythm with the quarterback. Reed would come open by breaking a route too early or in the wrong spot. The quarterback would not be prepared for him to be where he was, so the ball would not be delivered despite Reed’s availability.

“The more times that you’re where you’re supposed to be, and the timing of when you’re supposed to be there, the more opportunities you’re going to have to get the football,” Phillips said. “If the quarterback sees something that he’s not comfortable with or there’s a muddy look, where, ‘Why is he there right now?’ or ‘I’m going to have to speed this thing up to get it to him,’ sometimes he’ll move on to the next progression. Kind of having that discipline to really work a guy and be where he’s supposed to be has been a big improvement for him.”

Phillips touts Reed’s hips, his “bend,” and the tight end’s ability to keep his feet underneath him. He’s also been impressed with Reed’s reaction to the faults in his game. Reed has not blocked well in his third NFL season. He also picked up an inordinate amount of penalties. Reed has tried to fix both.

“He’s very conscientious,” Phillips said. “You see some of these guys that only catch passes and they really don’t touch anybody and they really look bad on tape and they really don’t care, and he’s not that guy. He cares and he wants to help the football team in every way.”

Jackson, Goldson back at practice

Free safety Dashon Goldson (rib/knee/shoulder), defensive end Jason Hatcher (neck/knee) and wide receiver DeSean Jackson (foot/knee) returned to practice Thursday after sitting out the day before. Inside linebacker Perry Riley (foot) did not practice Wednesday or Thursday.

Coach Jay Gruden expects Goldson to play Saturday night against the Philadelphia Eagles.

“I think it would be a pretty significant injury for Goldson not to go, but we have [Kyshoen] Jarrett, we have [DeAngelo] Hall,” Gruden said. “Jeron Johnson has been practicing, so that’s another option for us.”

Right tackle Morgan Moses (ankle) was limited in Thursday’s practice.

“He’s going to need the next couple of days,” Gruden said. “He really is. He did a limited basis today. Him and Josh [LeRibeus] both. Morgan is going to need a little bit more time, so we’ll see how he does. I think he’ll be good enough to dress and all that stuff, but we’ll see how he does come Saturday night. Pregame warm-up and all that stuff will be a good test for him.”

Also limited Thursday were running back Matt Jones (hip) and wide receiver Ryan Grant (abdomen).

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