Washington tight end Niles Paul catches a pass during Saturday’s training camp practice against the Texans in Richmond. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

RICHMOND — A considerably bigger, stronger Niles Paul reported to Redskins training camp this season, carrying roughly 27 additional pounds of muscle to complement the fierce work ethic he already was known for in the weight room and on the practice field.

Redskins Coach Jay Gruden has rewarded Paul by naming him the team’s starting tight end, vaulting him ahead of the frequently injured Jordan Reed, on the unofficial depth chart that was released in the run-up to Thursday’s pre-season opener at Cleveland.

Competing last year at 225 pounds, Paul had the most productive season of his NFL career, catching 39 passes while Reed was in and out of the lineup with hamstring ailments.

In the offseason, Paul worked closely with the Redskins’ executive chef and the team’s new strength and conditioning coach Mike Clark, to raise his game. He also improved his eating habits.

Tight end Niles Paul built up his physique in the offseason, gaining 27 pounds to help with his blocking, although the newly-named starter still run a pass routes. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

“My goal was to put on a little bit more weight so that I stood a fair chance against the bigger guys in the league, the bigger guys on our team, the defensive ends,” Paul said in an interview. “It had to be good weight.”

Instead of skipping breakfast and eating just two meals daily, Paul switched to three and four meals a day. He was also urged to eat as many healthy snacks, heavy on carbohydrates and protein, whenever he wanted and particularly after workouts.

“We told him not to get hungry, just to eat throughout the day — either a protein shake, a Greek yogurt,” Clark said. “When he’s getting ready to turn the lights out, eat the yogurt and go to bed.”

Under Clark’s direction in the weight room, Paul shifted his focus to Olympic-style weight-lifting, which focuses on building lower-body explosiveness. The upshot: Last year Paul never tried squatting more than 515 pounds. He’s now squatting 605 pounds.

By all accounts, Paul added bulk and strength without sacrificing his ability to move. Clark describes him as “more sudden” on the field.

“[Outside linebacker Ryan] Kerrigan used to treat me like a rag doll in practice,” Paul said. “Wherever he wanted me to go, I went. And it’s not that way this year. I’m a lot more aggressive with him.

“ … I feel stronger. I feel like a better player. I feel like I’m not getting manhandled by the bigger guys anymore. I feel like I’m a true tight end. I know I say that all the time, but this year, specifically, I don’t feel like a converted wide receiver.”

What’s ahead:
Monday’s full practice is at 3 p.m., and Tuesday, practice is at 1:35. Then, the Redskins are off until Thursday night’s preseason opener in Cleveland. The full training camp schedule is here, and all blog posts from Richmond are here.

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