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Mike Shanahan: Niles Paul’s Transition Similar To Shannon Sharpe

By ZAC BOYER | zboyer@freelancestar.com | @ZacBoyer

Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan spoke favorably of the team’s plan to move Niles Paul from receiver to tight end this offseason, comparing the transition to the one made by Shannon Sharpe shortly after joining Shanahan in Denver in 1990.

Paul

“I hate to compare anybody to a Hall of Fame player, going into their second year, but Shannon Sharpe came into Denver at exactly the same height,” Shanahan said Wednesday afternoon during a scheduled appearance on ESPN 980 Radio. “He was about five pounds less than Niles Paul weighed. He was a receiver coming out of Savannah State and we moved him over to the tight end position and he had a pretty darn good career, which everybody obviously knows. Niles has the mindset to be an excellent player. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t make the transition very easily.”

Paul, at 6-foot-1, weighed 224 pounds at the beginning of last season, but he has added approximately 10 pounds since January. He played in 13 games as a rookie last season with two starts at receiver, but played mostly on special teams, catching just two passes for 25 yards and carrying the ball once for a seven-yard gain.

Amongst his greatest assets is his speed. Paul has been timed in the 4.5-second range in the 40-yard dash, and that quickness served him well on special teams, where he made four tackles last season as a gunner. Plus, the Redskins’ versatility with the tight end position could offer new opportunities for Paul to make an impact.

“He could actually move to the fullback position as well,” Shanahan said. “What I mean by that is, sometimes you take that tight end off the line of scrimmage and sometimes you motion him into the backfield, and it gives you a number of things to do offensively that you haven’t been able to do in the past.”

He’ll have plenty of competition at tight end. Chris Cooley, Fred Davis, Logan Paulsen and Richard Quinn, all of whom played in a game last season for the Redskins, are still under contract, and the team also signed Beau Reliford, an undrafted free agent out of Florida State two weeks ago.

Shanahan also addressed his expectations for quarterback Robert Griffin III, who the team chose with the second overall pick in the NFL Draft last month, as well as the ensuing selection of quarterback Kirk Cousins, the moves the team made in the offseason and the salary cap penalties during the 15-minute appearance.

On what he thought the team would have to give up to get the No. 2 pick from St. Louis: “Well, we didn’t know for sure exactly what it was gonna cost, because when the Rams asked us to make our bid, they were gonna talk with some other people, and ‘Give us your best shot.’ We gave them our best shot. We were hoping that we were gonna move up to the second position, and we were hoping that we gave enough to get there, but we were worried about a couple other teams at that time that had the ammunition to do the same thing.”

On if he expected a quarterback controversy when Cousins was drafted: “Any time you give up two No. 1s and a No. 2 to move up to a position to get a quarterback, either Robert or Andrew [Luck], in that situation, that means you’ve studied both guys thoroughly and you believe that’s that franchise guy. When we moved up, we felt good about both guys, and I felt extremely good about Robert, knowing the type of offense that we run and he had everything that we look for. I was hoping that we were gonna [be] able to land him, just because of all the intangibles that we talked about before. He’s done a great job for us, but no, I was not worried about any quarterback controversy.”

On his expectations for this season: “I think we’ve got the foundation to have an excellent football team. We’ve got some young players – we’re night and day difference from two years ago. That’s what you try to do. We’ve got that quarterback. We’ve got a couple quarterbacks I feel very confident in. We went out and got a couple wide receivers in free agency. Our offensive line is a lot more solid, as well as our tight ends and our backs – as well as our defense. It gives you a chance to have success, and like you said, everybody’s legacy is what you do in this league, and that’s why you go to war each week – to try prove yourself.”

On whether he knew all along Indianapolis would draft Luck: “You never know for sure, because people can change their mind, but with all the reports and all the speculation throughout the year, I thought Indy had their mind made up and they were going in that direction. You never know if someone may change their mind at the last minute, and that’s why you have to do your due diligence and study both quarterbacks and feel good, whatever direction they decide to go, that you feel good with either quarterback.”

On fitting Griffin into the system: “Well, first of all, you have to take a look at all your quarterbacks throughout your career, and you have to take a look at each guy and everybody’s talent. When I was with Steve Young, we ran a basic West Coast offense – three- and five-step drops. You know, we did some personnel groupings that were a little bit different than the 49ers had done in the past, but it was a basic West Coast system. John Elway was completely different. He was a big shotgun guy, throwing the ball down the field, seven-step drops. Brian Griese was completely different guy. I’m talking about guys that have started at least three or four years for me. He was more of a formation, game-planner. Extremely intelligent. Gave you the best plays on every play and had some great years. Jake Plummer, a bootleg guy, a naked guy, a rollout guy. Jay Cutler could do it all – drop back, empty, play-action. You take a look at all these guys, and you have to change your system to your personnel. If you have a great one, you know you have a great one, and what you have to do is get him the supporting cast to be successful. There’s so many quarterbacks, like [St. Louis quarterback Sam] Bradford right now, in my opinion – they’ll give him an excellent supporting cast here in the near future and everybody’s gonna say, ‘Oh my God. This guy – God, he is a good player.’ Well, of course he is. You’ve got to get the right supporting cast around him, and sometimes guys don’t fall into the right situation, but give them some time and a supporting cast and they’ll show their ability.”

On the salary cap penalties impacting the offseason: “Well, obviously, I can’t get into it, because it’s confidential, but any time you find out a couple hours before free agency that you were fined $36 million, you have to alter your plans.”

On adding speed at receiver: “Well, No. 1, we felt [Pierre] Garcon was a big-time threat. We felt Leonard Hankerson last year was a big-time pick-up for us. Everything you look for in a receiver – big, physical. Even though he only played down there in Miami, you could see his playmaking ability. And the addition of Josh Morgan, I thought he was a complete player when he was in San Francisco, the way he blocked, the way he caught passes and made some big plays. Then you take the guys that we already have – obviously, Santana Moss, what he’s done is he’s come into camp about 15 pounds lighter. Anthony Armstrong, Aldrick Robinson, Brandon Banks, great speed. All 4.3 guys that can do some things not only at the wide receiver position, but you can motion them into the backfield and they can actually act as running backs depending on what you’re doing offensively. Then you’ve got Robert Griffin, obviously, that can make some plays both inside and outside the pocket. And then you talk about running backs, and it gives you some more options on offense.”

On the running backs: “When you take a guy like [Tim] Hightower and [Roy] Helu and [Evan] Royster, you know, three guys that played last year – Royster averaged 5.9 a carry, Helu 4.2, and Tim went down early – that’s what you want to have. You want to have some competition at those positions, especially with some younger players like all three of them are. Plus we have four other running backs on the team that we think have a legitimate chance to play in the National Football League – Alfred Morris, being one of our draft choices that we saw a lot on tape. The great part about it is we’re going to let these guys compete, and the best one will give us a chance to show us what he can do going against New Orleans.”

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