During training camp last year, the Washington Redskins sometimes used Mike Sellers at blocking tight end before having him focus at H-back because of the complexity of Coach Joe Gibbs's offense. During the season, the 6-foot-3, 278-pound Sellers was most valuable on special teams, finishing second on the unit in tackles while also contributing as a fullback -- or lead blocker -- in goal-line situations.
The second week of training camp begins today with a late afternoon practice. And for the second week, Sellers will practice mainly as a blocking tight end.
Last season, Robert Royal scored four touchdowns on only eight receptions after replacing Walter Rasby as the pure tight end. Royal's forte has always been pass catching. But the Redskins want their tight ends to improve on run blocking. So Sellers and Royal are quietly having one of the most competitive battles in camp.
"This year, we just zeroed in and said, 'All right, you're going to just learn the Y position [pure blocking tight end],'" said tight ends coach Rennie Simmons of Sellers, who caught only one pass as an H-back last season. "'Take care of your special teams duties.' And he's been doing a very good job: He gives us a good power blocker there. He's still quick enough to do a pretty good job in the passing game, too.
"Last year, his problem was he didn't have the experience with our offense. And we probably tried to put too much on his plate. And this year, we backed off [at H-back], and he's picked up everything real well. And I think that's going to make him a more effective guy. There's one thing to be able to block somebody, but if you make a mistake here and there, it costs you. And you can't afford to have that happen. So I have to take blame for that. I put too much on his plate for him. I think he's going to be a real good blocking tight end for us."
At 6-4, 260 pounds, Royal has all-around skills, but the club wants him to increase his strength and weight. The Redskins have also experimented using center Lennie Friedman at blocking tight end. Last week, Friedman took a few snaps in various packages. The Redskins like Friedman's savvy and athleticism at 6-3, 295 pounds.
This morning, the Redskins announced the signing of tight end Robert Johnson to add more competition to the blocking tight end position. The Redskins released the 6-3, 259-pound Billy Palmer, an undrafted rookie out of Notre Dame, who was a long shot to make the squad. Johnson -- who made his first NFL appearance with the Chicago Bears in 2003 -- is considered a good pass catcher and solid blocker at 6-6, 278 pounds. A former Auburn Tiger, Johnson was released by Chicago before the 2004 season and signed with Tampa Bay's practice squad in December.
Unlike most NFL coaches, Gibbs generally lines up two tight ends instead of one. The H-back, a hybrid fullback and receiver, mostly lines up off the line or scrimmage or in the backfield. The pure tight end lines up on the line of scrimmage primarily as a blocker.
"With that blocking tight end, we need stability there," Simmons said. "So if we've got Royal improving, and we got him [Sellers] also to share the duties, we feel right now between those two guys, we're in pretty good shape."
Focusing on Penalties
Last season, the Redskins committed the second-most penalties in club history. Gibbs has broken down each penalty by offense, defense and special teams. The worst offender by position group was the offensive line.
"We were real bad in that category," said Joe Bugel, assistant head coach of offense. "That's one thing we have to improve. We have to improve on our snap count. That hurt us a little bit. Illegal procedures were bad, even personal fouls. We added up a lot of yards. We were bad; we were awful."
Left guard Derrick Dockery was the main culprit while right guard Randy Thomas stood out for his lack of infractions. Dockery had 11 penalties: seven false starts, three holding and even ineligible downfield pass.
"We addressed that," Bugel said. "That's something we've got to work on because that killed us, that killed us bad."