For Niles Paul, Transition To Tight End Worth The Weight
ASHBURN – Of all the challenges Niles Paul faced last season as a rookie with the Washington Redskins, there may have been no more constant battle than the one he waged against himself.
Paul was consistently surpassing the 224-pound target weight asked of him by the coaches – a limit they figured, based on his 6-foot-1 frame and his 4.5-second 40-yard speed, was optimal for him as a receiver.
“There was a point last year where I was at about 228 during the season,” Paul said. “I kept having to starve myself so I would make 224.”
From that aspect alone, Paul’s second year should go a lot easier. He began the conversion to tight end earlier this spring following a conversation with head coach Mike Shanahan, and when the Redskins reconvened in April for offseason workouts, learning the nuances of the position was Paul’s top priority.
“I said, ‘Hey, coach, I’ll play wherever you put me at. I want to keep my job,’” Paul said Thursday. “He said, ‘We still want you to do everything you were doing at wide receiver, but we’re gonna move you to tight end.’ I said, ‘All right.’”
The position is mostly unfamiliar for Paul, who began learning the basics late last season when Chris Cooley was injured and Fred Davis was suspended for the final four games for failing a drug test.
He played in 13 games as a receiver, starting two, and caught two passes; he missed the other three with turf toe.
But can he adapt? Teams are increasingly using taller tight ends, such as New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham or New England’s Rob Gronkowski, each of whom are 6-foot-6, as staples in their passing game.
Paul’s greatest asset is his straight-line speed – he played well as a gunner on special teams last season – and while he was a capable blocker as a receiver, he’ll now be tasked with stopping defensive ends and linebackers.
“We don’t have pads on yet, but he’s doing a good job of getting in a stance and assimilating as many blocking techniques as a blocking tight end can do without pads on,” Shanahan said. “A lot of those guys that can run and can catch and have the speed aren’t really good blockers, and I think he can do both.”
Paul will face competition from the four other tight ends on the roster at the end of last season – Cooley, Davis, Logan Paulsen and Richard Quinn – when the team begins training camp in late July. He’s been relying upon them, as well as tight ends coach Sean McVay, for help.
He won’t need assistance when it comes to his weight. The team wants him anywhere between 232 and 238 pounds, and on Thursday, Paul was at 236.
“I think they’re pretty set on me playing tight end, and I’m pretty comfortable at where I’m at,” Paul said.