In between talk of a big-time brawl with the Houston Texans, and before he confessed his favorite yoga pose, Redskins coach Jay Gruden provided some very interesting information in his Monday afternoon press conference: The Redskins plan on starting Niles Paul at tight end this fall. Paul worked very hard in his four-year career with Washington to develop from a college receiver to an NFL tight end, and it's good the Redskins brass wants to reward Paul. It is possible, however, that the move to give Paul more reps with the first team offense represents something else entirely.
"He is one of our strongest players. He is self-made," Gruden said of Paul. "He’s a very complete player right now. Hats off to him for putting the work in."
Hats off to Paul indeed, a nice guy and hardworker the Redskins need on the roster. But the honest truth here could be the Redskins want to expose third-year tight end, and elite pass-catcher, Jordan Reed to less blocking, trying to keep him healthy. Right?
"When you are talking about your base offense where you go one fullback, one running back and one tight end where the running game and pass blocking is very important for that guy, Niles has emerged as the starter," Gruden said. "Jordan [Reed] will play a lot in our three-receiver sets, one-tight-end set, obviously. He is probably the starter in that particular group."
This is not to suggest Paul has not improved drastically as a pass-catcher. He has. Last season in his first chance at extensive work at the position, Paul registered career highs with 39 catches and more than 500 yards. But Paul received more opportunity because Reed was again injured, a common theme in his two years with the Redskins. Paul's career numbers came with him playing in all 16 games and starting seven. Reed, who started just two games and played in parts of 11, still managed 50 catches for 465 yards.
"When we go two tight ends it will be Niles and Jordan. We change personnel so often, they will both get a lot of playing time," Gruden said.
Promoting Paul's role could be a deft move by Gruden. The coach knows the talent Reed has, and if less blocking duties are placed on the third-year Gator, perhaps he can get through a full season for the first time in his career. It's also smart for the Redskins to plan on Paul being their horse at tight end, as Reed has played just 20 of 32 games in his career. Paul has also worked hard to add more upper body strength, which will help with more blocking duties.
As the tight end position continues to increase in importance throughout the NFL, the Redskins are well positioned to deploy Paul and Reed this fall. If an increased role for Paul means more games for Reed, it helps even more.
Will the plan work? Can Paul handle the additional reps? Will it keep Reed healthy? Let us know what you think in the comments.