RICHMOND — After hearing that Washington Redskins tight ends coach Sean McVay had been promoted to offensive coordinator in January, tight end Jordan Reed called McVay to offer his congratulations and ask a question. Reed and McVay grew close last season, and Reed wondered whether McVay would still have time for him.
“Can you believe that?” asked McVay, who smiled and shook his head while recalling the conversation Friday during a break from practice. “He actually thought I’d be too busy for him. You always make time for guys like him.”
Especially if you’re an assistant coach who hopes to remain employed.
Coach Jay Gruden has big plans for the young tight end, whose combination of size, speed — he’s listed at 6 feet 2, 237 pounds and covers the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds — and route running make him a major matchup problem for defenses. And with deep-threat wide receiver DeSean Jackson often expected to draw double teams, Reed and others in the Redskins’ receiving corps should benefit from single coverage.
No one needs to tell Gruden how to best use Reed. However, if Gruden ever has a question about Reed, he can call on McVay, who knows him better than anyone in the organization. The work they did together last fall could help Reed blast off this year. From the start, they developed a model coach-player relationship.
“He’s obviously a great player, but I really enjoy him as a person, too,” McVay said. “He’s a great guy, so you want to continue to be involved with him.”
Generally, head coaches are father figures, disciplinarians. Position coaches are supposed to be like big brothers. The best skillfully walk the line of being a supervisor, teacher and friend. They’re the ones in whom players usually confide.
During three-plus seasons coaching Redskins tight ends, McVay had a good rapport with all players who reported to him. He took pride in working hard and being honest, figuring that’s the best way to lead. For that, he earned the players’ respect.
A third-round selection from Florida in the 2013 draft, Reed quickly learned McVay had his back. Whatever he needed — another question answered in the meeting room, extra work after practice or a quick tip on the sideline during games — McVay delivered way before Reed ascended to the top of the depth chart.
Some assistants attempt to latch onto fast-risers, hoping to advance their careers, and ignore the players at the bottom of the roster, but “Coach McVay always tries to help everybody,” Reed told me recently. “You know if he says something, he means it.”
Reed peppered McVay with questions about every aspect of playing tight end in the NFL, his role in the Redskins’ offense and what he could do to improve. Although Reed began the season as the third-string tight end behind veterans Fred Davis and Logan Paulsen, coaches and players privately raved about the big plays he made in closed practices.
It was only a matter of time, many said, before Reed supplanted Davis as the starter. Davis accelerated the process by continuing to be a knucklehead — you can’t repeatedly fall asleep in meetings and then complain about how you’re being used — and it became clear Reed was too good to remain on the sideline.
In preparation for Reed’s starting assignment, McVay came up with an idea he hoped would make the transition as smooth as possible. At the team hotel the night before games, McVay and Reed reviewed the game plan. In rooms used for team meetings, they would spend hours discussing routes, potential problems the defense could present and counters to the defense.
Obviously, the sessions paid off. Reed emerged as an integral member of the passing game.
His breakout performance occurred in an Oct. 20 victory over the Chicago Bears, when he had nine catches for 134 yards — the highest totals ever for a Redskins rookie tight end — and scored a touchdown. In an impressive first season cut short because of a concussion, Reed finished second on the team with 45 receptions for 499 yards (an 11.1-yard average). He also had three touchdown receptions, tying him for second on the team.
McVay has seen enough to express confidence Reed “is capable of being as good as he wants to be. It’s just a matter of being able to take care of himself and stay healthy.”
Reed wasn’t as forthcoming as he should have been about the lingering effects of hits to his head. He says that won’t happen again. McVay and new tight ends coach Wes Phillips, whose grandfather, Bum, and father, Wade, were former NFL head coaches, will hold Reed to it.
McVay is respectful of Phillips’s relationships with the tight ends. Phillips needs time — and space — to get to know the players he’s now responsible for guiding.
And McVay is busy helping Gruden build the new playbook and serving as the de facto quarterbacks coach. McVay’s primary job is to help Gruden get Robert Griffin III back on track.
But if Reed needs something, McVay will find the time.
For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.