At tight end, Washington addressed its depth by signing Jace Sternberger, a 2019 third-round pick, off the Seattle Seahawks’ practice squad. Thomas will be eligible to return for Week 8 at the Denver Broncos, but if Thomas is not ready by then, the team could slow-play his return and bring him back following its Week 9 bye.
In Thomas’s absence, quarterback Taylor Heinicke said he was confident backup tight end Ricky Seals-Jones would step up, in part because he played well after Thomas left the win at Atlanta last week in the first quarter. Seals-Jones caught two of four targets for 19 yards.
“It’s Logan’s team, Logan’s position, but he’s down, so we got to capitalize and hold it down until he’s back,” said Seals-Jones, who didn’t know Thomas would hit IR until he met with reporters Wednesday. “My job is the same: Go in and go to work.”
The depth of the offense, which has outperformed expectations through four weeks, will be tested Sunday against New Orleans. In addition to Thomas and Scherff, running back Antonio Gibson (shin) and a trio of wide receivers — Dyami Brown (knee), Cam Sims (hamstring), Curtis Samuel (groin) — didn’t practice Wednesday, and third-down running back J.D. McKissic (ankle) was limited.
The wave of injuries hit as Ryan Vermillion, the head athletic trainer and director of sports medicine, was put on administrative leave because of an ongoing criminal investigation. Coach Ron Rivera said the training staff will operate “pretty much by committee.”
In Thomas, Washington loses one of its most valuable weapons. He was not only consistent, playing 93 percent of the team’s snaps last season, but also reliable. Quarterbacks often spoke about how much they trusted the former quarterback’s reads of defenses, and it showed in the red zone. They targeted Thomas on 27.3 percent of their attempts there this season, the fifth-highest rate among tight ends leaguewide.
On Monday, Rivera said he has seen “tremendous growth” from Seals-Jones, who figures to assume most of Thomas’s snaps and targets (Thomas has averaged 4.6 per game this season).
“He does a great job with his routes. He’s learning to run those even better,” Rivera added. “He’s got good hands. He’s a pretty sure catcher. His blocking has come a long way. He did a nice job this past weekend.”
Washington also probably will rely on rookie John Bates as a blocker. The fourth-round pick from Boise State impressed Rivera and teammates Sunday with a pancake block to help seal DeAndre Carter’s 101-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Rivera complimented the position of Bates’s hands and feet on the block as well as his overall demeanor when thrust into a larger role.
Behind those two, Rivera said Sammis Reyes, the reserve tight end from Chile who hasn’t been active this season, could play against New Orleans. Heinicke praised Reyes’s progress in catching and route running and thinks the last piece is “just getting to the NFL speed and understanding concepts.” But it’s also possible Washington’s signed Sternberger because it believes Reyes, who had never played football before signing with the team in April, isn’t ready for game action yet.
The good news for Washington: It has used more than one tight end on only 14 percent of its plays this season — the third-lowest rate in the league, according to the website Sharp Football Analysis.
In Sternberger, Washington added another former Texas A&M standout who is tied with Seals-Jones for the most touchdowns all-time for an Aggies tight end with 10. In 2019, the Green Bay Packers drafted Sternberger in the third round, and the following year, he caught 12 of 15 targets for 114 yards and a score.
Before this season, the 25-year-old was suspended for the first two games of the year for violating the league’s substance abuse policy after he fell asleep at the wheel in February 2020. Sternberger said he dozed off because he drank alcohol while on antidepressant medication.
It’s unclear what role, if any, he will play on the field in Washington.
For now, the immediate future of the position seems to center on Seals-Jones. He flashed his receiving ability against the New York Giants, when he made an athletic touchdown grab in the back right corner of the end zone, and tight ends coach Pete Hoener has harped on his blocking seemingly every day at practice.
“He did a fantastic job [Sunday],” Heinicke said. “As long as he keeps working hard at it, we’ll be fine.”