As the Washington Redskins open training camp this week with the typical variety of questions about players at a number of different positions, sorting through the team’s possibilities at the tight end spot promises to provide its share of summertime intrigue.
The Redskins, if all works out as hoped, could have an abundance of production at tight end, with veteran Chris Cooley and converted wide receiver Niles Paul attempting to carve out significant roles for themselves in the offense behind starter Fred Davis.
But each of the three arrives at training camp with plenty to prove. Davis is returning from his four-game suspension by the NFL at the end of last season for violating the sport’s substance abuse policy. Cooley is trying to revive his Redskins career following an injury-filled season, and Paul is vying to demontrate that he deserves a roster spot at his new position.
“I think that’s what makes good teams,” Cooley said during the offseason, “is guys that show up and have to compete to play on their team.”
Redskins veterans report to training camp Wednesday and the opening practice of camp is scheduled for Thursday. The brightest spotlight, of course, will be on the training-camp performance of Robert Griffin III, the prized rookie quarterback who was selected in April after a bold trade to move up in the first-round draft order in a bid to turn around the fortunes of a franchise with a combined 11 wins in Coach Mike Shanahan’s two seasons.
But there also will be attention on Davis, Cooley and others. Davis was en route to a standout 2011 season, with 59 catches for 796 yards in 12 games, when he and left tackle Trent Williams were suspended for the final four games for violating the league’s drug policy.
The Redskins used their franchise-player tag on Davis in the offseason to limit his mobility in free agency. He signed his one-year, $5.446 million franchise-player contract. But the two sides did not agree to a long-term deal prior to last week’s league-wide deadline for such contracts for franchise players, and Shanahan said during the offseason that Davis and Williams would have to prove their reliability to the organization and to their teammates.
Cooley turned 30 this month, and is coming off an injury-shortened season in which he had only eight catches in five games. He had a 77-catch season in 2010. In the last five seasons in which he has remained healthy and played a full 16 games, he has averaged 70.8 catches per season. He said at offseason organized team activities that his injury-plagued left knee was sound and he was feeling good.
But he has failed to play 16 games in two of the past three seasons, and he said at OTAs he realizes he faces “a big challenge” to show that he still can resemble the player that he once was. The financial stakes are high for the Redskins, with Cooley slated to count more than $6 million against the salary cap this season. Cooley said during the offseason he believes he can be a major factor for the Redskins in any role, but still strives to show he can be a full-time player.
“I want to be the guy that catches a lot of passes and gets a lot of first downs and scores touchdowns,” Cooley said. “That’s what everyone should aspire to be and that’s what I want to be.”
The unknown commodity in the tight end mix for the Redskins is Paul, who had two catches in 13 games as a rookie wide receiver last season. The team’s coaches moved Paul to tight end late last season, and made the switch more permanent during the offseason. Shanahan once made a similar move in Denver with Shannon Sharpe, who became one of the top tight ends in league history and ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Redskins, too, are eager to see what Paul can do at the spot.
“Moving Niles over to tight end is definitely going to cause a lot of matchup problems,” Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall said at OTAs.
But the next step, Paul said during the offseason, is merely to earn a spot on the season-opening roster.
“For them to call me and let me know they want to give me a chance, they want to find me a home on the field, I appreciate the opportunity,” Paul said.
Parking lots open at noon, gates at 1 p.m. and practice starts at 2:55 p.m.