- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 23, 2005

In 14 years as the starting tight end for the Washington Redskins, Don Warren never scared opposing pass defenses. That’s what H-backs like Clint Didier were for in coach Joe Gibbs’ offense. Warren was virtually a third tackle. His job was to block.

Robert Royal is athletic enough to have played on the LSU basketball team as a freshman and averaged 15.5 yards a catch as a junior for the Tigers. Steve Spurrier, who coached against Royal in the Southeastern Conference, hoped the Redskins’ fifth-round pick in the 2002 draft would give him the receiving tight end Washington lacked.

Fast forward to 2005. Gibbs is back coaching the Redskins with his old scheme still the basis of the offense. Royal mostly spends his hours in uniform blocking as Warren, newly hired as a scout, looks on from the sideline, while H-back Chris Cooley sees plenty of passes.

“We had heard that Robert supposedly wasn’t the type of tight end that we were looking for, but he has fit in pretty well,” said Rennie Simmons, then and now Gibbs’ tight ends coach. “Robert is more athletic than the modified tackle that we were used to at tight end, and he has showed us that he can be an effective blocker.”

The 6-foot-4 Royal, who weighed 235 pounds at LSU, has worked on getting stronger. He weighs 255 now, but that’s still considerably lighter than Washington’s other tight ends, Mike Sellers, Brian Kozlowski and Robert Johnson.

“Last year, Robert was still more of a pass catcher,” said strong-side linebacker Marcus Washington, who battles Royal daily in practice. “He’s got a little more pop to him this year. He’s becoming a better blocker.”

Simmons points out size isn’t everything, even in the NFL trenches.

“Robert may not be the biggest tight end in the league, but he uses his leverage and gets the job done,” Simmons said. “Robert’s very intelligent. It’s one thing to be smart, but when the ball is snapped, can you adjust? Robert does a good job of that.”

Royal had to adjust when Gibbs replaced Spurrier last year, but he was happy to do so if it meant he would be on the field after missing all but six games with injuries in his first two seasons. Royal wound up playing in 14 games, starting nine.

“Of course, every tight end wants to catch balls, but the important thing to me is the team winning,” Royal said. “I want to be better than 6-10. I want them to see me as a smart, tough player who can get the job done whether as a blocker or in the passing game.”

Royal got the job done last year in a way Warren never did. While Warren caught 244 passes in his 14 years, he scored just seven touchdowns. But four of Royal’s eight catches last year were for scores, earning him the nickname “Red Zone.”

Royal, who wears a small “Red Zone Royal” No. 88 towel attached to his uniform pants belt, caught a pass in the right flat from Patrick Ramsey on second-and-goal from the 9-yard line as the clock was running down in the first half of Friday’s preseason game with Cincinnati. Royal reached the 2 but couldn’t score. The Redskins settled for a field goal, and Royal was destined for teasing.

“I said, ‘C’mon Red Zone. That’s your domain. They can’t deny you down there,’ ” Washington said, laughing.

Royal, 26, is the only offensive starter poised for unrestricted free agency, but his contract is not a priority for now.

“I just want to stay healthy and get better as a player,” said Royal, who sat out yesterday after suffering a mild shoulder strain Monday that shouldn’t keep him out for long. “There’s so much for me to work on. I know the system better this year, and whenever you know the system better, you can go out there and play more freely.”

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