As the Washington Redskins began their voluntary offseason conditioning program this week, second-year pro Niles Paul started preparing to switch from wide receiver to tight end.
Paul, whom the Redskins drafted in the fifth round out of Nebraska last year, played in 13 games as a rookie, recording two catches for 25 yards. Most of his action came on special teams, but he did start two games at receiver and pleased coaches with his effective blocking.
In the last three games of the season, with Chris Cooley on injured reserve, and Fred Davis suspended, the Redskins used Paul sparingly as a backup tight end. Apparently, Mike Shanahan and his assistants liked what they saw.
“Coach gave me a call earlier this offseason and asked me how I’d feel about switching to tight end,” Paul said in a phone interview Friday morning. “I told him, ‘I’ll play wherever you want me.’ I’ve done everything I’ve been asked, and I’ll keep doing it. I’m excited about the position change. I’m excited that coach has enough respect for me that he’d call me to ask me what I thought about it.”
Paul has attended all the tight end meetings of the Redskins offseason program this week, a development that 106.7 The Fan’s Grant Paulsen first reported Thursday evening.
Paul said he doesn’t yet fully know what his role will be, but he is focusing on learning as much as he can from tight ends coach Sean McVay and teammates Davis, Cooley and Logan Paulsen. The Redskins often use multiple tight end sets in their offense, and Paul has been asked to learn both the ‘Y’(or lead tight end) and ‘Tiger’ (more of a secondary/blocking end) positions.
There’s a degree of uncertainty with the Redskins’ tight end position. The Redskins hope that Davis – who was suspended for four games for failing multiple drug tests last season – can build on his production last year, when he recorded 59 catches, 796 yards and three touchdowns. Cooley was limited to five games (eight catches, 65 yards) because of a recurring knee injury, and it remains to be seen whether the Redskins are willing to carry him at his current cap figure of $6.23 million. Paulsen is a solid blocking end, but in two years has a combined 13 catches for 148 yards and a touchdown.
“I definitely think I can do it,” Paul said. “I’ve got the size and the mindset, so it’s not far-fetched to say I can do it. I’m picking up everything pretty well so far. But it’s still early, so we’ll just have to wait and see how exactly they’ll use me.”
Paul is listed at 6-foot-1, 224 pounds. But the muscular player, who at last year’s combine ran a 4.45-second 40-yard dash, said he played at 228 pounds for much of the season, and maintaining that weight was a struggle despite a religious exercise regimen and healthy eating. At one point, he reached 234 pounds, and consulted with the team’s strength and conditioning coaches, who took his body fat percentage and came to the conclusion that Paul was still at a healthy, lean weight.
“They said 234 was my natural weight, so I can bulk up a little more to play tight end,” Paul said. “They want me at no more than 238, but no less than 232.”
Cooley is 6-foot-3, Davis 6-4 and Paulsen 6-5, so Paul would be the shortest tight end on the roster. But he believes that he still can be effective, both as a blocker and pass catcher.
“Cooley and Fred were reminding me that Aaron Hernandez of the Patriots is 6-1, 245, and he’s definitely doing fine,” Paul said. “I play physical anyway. It’s just a matter of picking up on all the techniques, and I got a little taste last year, and obviously, coach thought I did well.”