Free safety Ryan Clark (left) defends against tight end Niles Paul. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post?

RICHMOND — When Niles Paul lined up on a power run play earlier this week at Washington Redskins training camp, the tight end had one assignment — block monstrous defender Ryan Kerrigan.

Once the whistle blew, all had apparently gone according to plan. Paul had locked up Kerrigan despite giving up three inches and 20 pounds, and running back Alfred Morris had squeezed through the subsequent hole for a gain. But Paul emerged from the scrum with a frustrated clap, drawing a confused look from new tight ends coach Wes Phillips.

“I completed my block, but I didn’t destroy Ryan and push him out of the hole like I wanted, so I was hard on myself,” Paul recalled following Saturday’s practice. “But [Phillips] was like ‘That’s what you want. You covered him, you had him, it was done.’ But I wanted to get more push. I’m hard on myself because I want to be the best player. I really want to make this roster.”

Given Paul’s versatility and the experience he’s garnered in just three NFL seasons, making the 53-man roster seems like a safe bet. But after switching from wide receiver to tight end to fullback while being shifted all over the special teams unit during a frustrating first three seasons, Paul entered this summer’s training camp armed with newfound peace and motivation.

“This year I feel like I’m more complete; this year I feel like a tight end. I feel like that’s my role; I know it,” Paul said. “Last year I was a little confused. I played a little fullback, I played a little receiver, and I played tight end. I took on a lot. But this is the first year that I’ve come into camp comfortable with my role. I’m a leader on special teams and I’m a tight end and that’s all I can ask for. At Nebraska, Coach (Bo] Pelini told me once I get in the NFL to be ready to do whatever, and that’s the mentality I’ve always had.”

After seeing his receiving production from 2012 (eight catches for 152 yards) drop last season (four catches for 51 yards) as Jordan Reed emerged at tight end, Paul is fine with the fact that he’s backup to a player he deemed a “Pro Bowler” last week. That’s because Paul not only knows there’s a place for him on the team; he’s confident in what that role is under Phillips and new special teams coach Ben Kotwica.

On goal-line and short-yardage packages, Paul can be counted upon as a strong blocker and reliable receiver, attributes that were on display Saturday when he snagged a short touchdown lob from Robert Griffin III late in practice. What’s more, his desire to blow up opponents on blocks has made Kotwica confident in placing Paul on the punt protection team while also exploring other special teams roles in which he can excel — though they likely won’t include returner despite fielding a team-high 20 kickoff returns last year.

“He’s got some special teams experience, so he’s a guy that I trust and has been working hard,” Kotwica said. “He played out on the perimeter last year for them and he’s capable enough to do that, so I saw a guy that understands special teams. He’s got some special teams knowledge and he plays with a demeanor we’re looking for.”

The 24-year-old Paul has always possessed the attitude and bearded look of a grizzled veteran, doing whatever necessary to help the team. In years past, that led to him being shuffled between positions as former Redskins coaches worked to fill voids left by injury and inferior play. This season, Phillips and Kotwica have been deliberate in defining what Paul’s role can be on the Redskins, allowing him to more confidently display his physical and adaptive ability.

“It’s his fourth year and I think his versatility and growth have helped him gain a confidence that’s evident to us as coaches and to where we know we can count on him to produce for us,” Phillips said. “He’s very coachable and he embraces whatever we need him to do to succeed. Sometimes he expects too much of himself, but that’s good. I can work with that rather than the opposite extreme.”

Have a Redskins question? Send an e-mail to with the subject line “Mailbag question,” and it might be answered on Tuesday in The Mailbag.

What’s ahead:

After a day off Sunday, the Redskins return to camp Monday morning for an 8:35 a.m. practice. They’ll be joined in Richmond by the New England Patriots. Here’s our camp guide, if you’re planning to attend.

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