Projected starter: Fred Davis
Key reserves: Chris Cooley, Niles Paul, Logan Paulsen
Vet on the bubble: Cooley, but for his health. If the Redskins felt he could no longer play, he wouldn’t be coming to camp. Cooley can still help the Redskins with his ability to move around – I’m not sold that Davis could handle the same load mentally. Paul can, but he’s still transitioning.
Camp battle: For all the backup spots. Again, if Cooley is healthy then he has to have the edge. Speed was never a crucial part of his game; he breaks tackles and finds soft spots and is a reliable target. Paul is the most intriguing because of his speed and competitiveness. And Paulsen is mostly a blocker. Yes he caught a couple passes, but he’s not a threat to the defense. So he’s a third tight end at best.
What I like: Davis’ athleticism and big-play ability. Of his 59 catches last season, 15 went for 20 or more yards. He’s an excellent fit in this scheme and gives them someone who can run away from defenders – and the misdirection makes him more dangerous. … Paul’s potential. Don’t know what he’ll do and just because Shannon Sharpe made this transition doesn’t mean he will do the same. We’re talking about a Hall of Famer in Sharpe. But I love Paul’s competitiveness. Can’t tell you how often I’d rewind replays of his blocks just to watch him operate. Blocking is about only partly about technique and mostly want-to. So even if is smaller than some he’s facing he’ll battle….And I like his speed. He’s a potential weapon; remember, he’s faster than Davis….Cooley’s consistency and versatility….Paulsen’s competitiveness. He fails because more often than not the other guy is better.
Remaining questions: Will Davis stay clean for the entire year? That’s impossible to predict. But he stands to lose out on a lot of money if he does not. …How will Cooley’s knee hold up? He dealt with minor groin and hamstring issues in the spring, but we were told that his knee was OK. But the real test is when you have to grind during training camp. … How long will it take Paul to fully transition to tight end? Sharpe – a three-sport athlete in college — caught a combined 29 passes his first two seasons. Point is: It takes time. Can he handle the blocking? Yes he’ll battle but will that be enough? … Has Davis improved as a blocker? I’ve heard the past two years how much he’s improved, but he’s still not a good blocker. He catches passes… Will Paulsen develop as a blocker? He had some excellent halves in this role only to have a few bad series. Will he become more consistent? Having a full offseason should help…
Better or worse: Tough to say they’re better and if Cooley’s knee doesn’t hold up they’re not. You can like Paul all you want – and I’m a fan – but no one knows what he’ll do when the games begin. … Now here comes the ‘how Robert Griffin III can help’ part: Those deep throwbacks to Davis out of the bootleg should be more dangerous. Too often last season even on big plays Davis had to wait on the pass. That turned a potential monster gain into just a very good one. This offense needs monster plays. If Griffin throws on time his arm should enable Davis to flourish on this play. I’m anxious to see Paul, but you have to allow for an adjustment period. He talked in the spring about learning how to run routes with more patience. He’d have to do that at receiver too. And he’ll have to learn how to take the proper angles on blocks. Sounds simple enough, but it could take him a little while. Still, he’s a guy I’d absolutely keep on the roster because he can help a team in several ways. And they can use him a lot like they did at the end of last season, when he handled some tight end duties.
Final word: Only two tight ends had more catches for 20-plus yards than Davis: New England’s Rob Gronkowski and New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham. However, Gronkowski had 22 such plays but out of 90 catches while Graham had 18 in 99 receptions. So Davis’ percentage of such plays was the best among tight ends last season. With more weapons around him; with a strong-armed quarterback; with something to prove … it should be another productive season for Davis. … A healthy Cooley — a big if — would give them a good one-two tandem and diversify the passing game. And young quarterbacks always like a good tight end. But RG3 attacks more than most and has the arm – and mindset – not to mention a better receiving corps to get the ball downfield – so even if Cooley’s on the roster his role could be diminished.
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