- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 9, 2015

ASHBURN — In one short week, Washington Redskins tight ends coach Wes Phillips witnessed months of offseason work crumble like a house of cards.

The first blow was a broken left ankle for starting tight end Niles Paul in the team’s first preseason game against the Cleveland Browns on Aug. 13. Just two days later, coach Jay Gruden announced Logan Paulsen needed season-ending surgery to repair a turf toe condition — an injury he sustained earlier in the week.

“It’s been very tough,” Phillips said. “Niles and Logan were guys we were counting on to play and now we have a whole new crop of guys in there. All the offseason work you put in with those guys, all the technique and drill work — then you start from scratch.”

The challenge now for Phillips and the Redskins ahead of Sunday’s opener against the Miami Dolphins is to build a cohesive unit around third-year tight end Jordan Reed and a pair of late additions in Derek Carrier and Anthony McCoy.

Carrier was acquired from the San Francisco 49ers for a conditional fifth-round pick on Aug. 21, and McCoy, who signed with the team on Monday.

The pressing question, of course, is whether Reed can remain healthy for a full season.

Reed’s first two seasons have been dogged by injuries, thanks to a concussion and nagging leg injuries that forced him to sit out 12 of his first 32 games.

He made a conscious effort to improve his durability in the offseason by tweaking his diet and adding weekly visits to a massage therapist and a chiropractor, yet the injuries followed him into the preseason.

Reed strained his hamstring Aug. 10 and missed two preseason games, but he’s optimistic this year will be different.

“I try not to really think about it too much,” Reed said. “I leave it to God and focus on playing. I feel great. I feel 100 percent going into this year.”

Phillips, in his second season with the Redskins, said he’s noticed a different approach from Reed and a concerted effort to keep his body right.

“I think he’s understood we need him out there, and he has been doing things pre-practice, post-practice, to try and mitigate or prevent anything from happening in the future,” Phillips said.

“Just because a guy had a couple of injuries early in his career, doesn’t mean it’s going to continue. He’s doing the right things preparing himself. He came into camp in great shape. His mind’s in a great place. We’re ready for him to have a great season.”

For Carrier and McCoy, the adjustment starts with how quickly they can learn the Redskins‘ offense. Learning new terminology is key, but it also extends to the smaller nuances of the system like route running and footwork.

Phillips noted the intellect of both Carrier and McCoy and their ability to quickly learn a new scheme, though Carrier has a slight head start on McCoy.

“I definitely feel comfortable,” Carrier said. “I’ve spent a lot of time with the coaches working out, getting the little details down. It’s been a learning process the whole time since I’ve been here, but you know, it’s something to embrace, and it’s been a great transition so far.

“I think at first, you try to draw similarities to help you remember things, but you know, after that, you’ve got to let the old ways go and grow with the new ways.”

Last season, Paul hauled in 39 catches for 507 yards. Reed caught 50 passes — third-most on the team behind Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson.

Without Paul, the Redskins will continue to rely on Reed as the team’s pass-catching tight end.

Carrier, who played primarily as a backup in San Francisco, caught nine passes for 105 yards last season. Standing at 6-foot-4, Carrier, a former receiver at Beloit, a Division III college, presents a big target for the offense and is expected to do a bit of both receiving and blocking.

It will be interesting to see what kind of production the Redskins get from McCoy, the former Seattle Seahawks tight end who hasn’t played since 2012 because of Achilles’ injuries. Though he’s caught 31 passes for 437 yards in his career, he’s known better for his blocking abilities.

“After getting through camp, my body feels back to where it needs to be,” McCoy said. “The first day is always the hardest day, but we’re just going to progress from here.”

If the Redskins feel they need a boost in run protection from the tight end position, there’s always right tackle Tom Compton, who steadily took reps there during the preseason after Paul and Paulsen went down and who saw time in that role last year as part of a jumbo package.

“Tom always is a good option for us as well to do some of the run game and pass protection stuff we might ask a tight end to do,” Phillips said. “That’s his world. I wouldn’t be surprised if we mixed that in.”

After losing two tight ends the Redskins now have options again, but how quickly they can come together remains a work in progress. 

For Phillips, the sooner the better. 

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