When the Washington Redskins released veteran tight end Chris Cooley last week, the move marked the end of an era, as one of the franchise’s most popular and productive players departed.
It also may have signified the confidence that club officials have in the progress of Niles Paul, who has been moved to tight end for his second NFL season after managing only two catches in 13 games as a rookie wide receiver.
Fred Davis is the Redskins’ starter at tight end. The team also has Logan Paulsen, who had 11 catches last season and can help as a blocker. But Paul take over much of the playing time that would have gone to Cooley.
Paul said he thinks his transition to tight end is going well.
“I’m ready for whatever they throw at me,” he said this week. “I got a lot of good work in during OTAs [organized team activities, or offseason practices], preseason and camp so I think I’m ready…. I played all four preseason games. I played a lot of snaps in all of them. I definitely feel a lot more comfortable than I did coming into the preseason.”
Paul said he’s grateful to Cooley, the franchise’s career leader in catches by a tight end, for the mentoring he provided. He wasn’t quite sure how to feel, he said, about Cooley’s departure.
“I didn’t know how to look at it,” Paul said. “I was more shocked than anything. I was kind of like, ‘Okay, Cooley was a big help to me.’ Cooley helped me believe that I could do this transition. He was always there keeping me motivated…. I guess now that I think about it a little bit, they really trust me and they trust the fact that my transition is going as well as I thought.”
Cooley started five games last season before he was placed on the injured reserve list with a broken finger and an ailing knee. The Redskins like to use formations with two tight ends, so there could be considerable playing time available for Paul.
“You hope so,” he said. “But I can only focus on what I can focus on, and that’s going out there and being assignment-sound, making plays and doing what I have to do to maintain that position.”
The biggest challenge for Paul could be developing into a good blocker. He said he thinks he is making strides in that area.
“I feel extremely comfortable,” Paul said. “It’s like night and day from the beginning of OTAs to now. I’m blocking. I’m getting off the ball. I’m getting more confident. I’m very excited about it. I can’t wait for a real live game situation.”