Redskins TE injuries could have a serious impact on the season

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Heading into Thursday night’s preseason opener the Redskins TE depth chart already looked murky as Jordan Reed was sidelined with a hamstring injury and Logan Paulsen was dealing with a serious toe injury that was feared to knock him out for the season. While the injuries at TE looked troubling particularly given the likelihood that Paulsen would be out for a long time if not the season, it didn’t appear to be a dire situation given the health and presence of Niles Paul.

Now a year ago at this time if Paul was considered the linchpin at the tight end position most Redskins fans would have probably been concerned. After a season where he performed well as a replacement for Reed, and an offseason where he bulked-up and was generating plenty of positive news, it finally felt like the Redskins had a capable every-down TE for the first time since Chris Cooley was in his prime. While Paul might not have been as good as a receiver as Reed, the drop-off wasn’t that much and even before adding weight he was a far better blocker than the former 3rd round pick. Given his ability to effectively work from a slot, in-line and H-back role, Paul brought the versatility needed to function as a starting TE in today’s NFL. Paul looked poised to have a breakout season and while he wasn’t going to be an elite or top 10 TE, he had the chance to be considered a good solid starter, which has been lacking from the Redskins.

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Ideally the Redskins offense would have had Paul getting most of the starting TE work, with Reed helping out on some passing downs as a solo TE or in some two-TE sets (maybe leaving Paul in to help block). Paul also figured to be a major contributor in the running game as a functioning in-line blocking TE, with Paulsen coming in as a 2nd blocking TE in some running sets. Given that the Redskins appear to be seriously committing to the run this year, this ability is key for the Redskins to execute their offense. This wasn’t going to be a great TE unit, but it appeared functional and would give the Redskins some options to match-up versus different defenses.

Those plans are now dashed with Paul suffering a season ending injury in the first quarter of last Thursday’s preseason game. On top of that Paulsen’s injury was confirmed to be season ending, meaning that the Redskins once set TE unit is now down to Jordan Reed and three young guys Je’Ron Hamm, Chase Dixon, and Devin Mahina. While they will surely add a couple options, there isn’t a TE out there who will fill the starting role that Paul was expected to handle. While Logan Paulsen was far from a good TE, it could be a stretch to find an adequate replacement for his shoes as a solid in-line blocking TE. Hamm and Dixon are more of receiving TE’s so they aren’t great fits to fill the Paulsen role and probably won’t offer much as a blocker in Paul’s role as well. Mahina is a bigger TE and could be a decent blocker, but he’s a college free agent and hasn’t made a lot of noise yet in camp.

Right now Jordan Reed is the Redskins only “healthy” NFL caliber tight end, but even that is a bit of a stretch. Reed is a tight end in the Aaron Hernandez joker TE role. As a receiver he can create mismatches and be an effective weapon, but he offers almost nothing as a blocker. Not only does he lack the ability to be an effective blocker, but last year he showed extremely poor effort which cost the Redskins on a number of plays. In a spread offense where they are going to throw the ball 60-65% of the time (Patriots, Broncos, Saints etc.) Reed could maybe be considered a “starting caliber” TE because he would have very limited blocking responsibilities and would be able to split-out wide on most of his snaps (even running down snaps). The Redskins though appear to be really focused on the run this season (as they should be) and could be poised to be a 50/50, run/pass split this year. If they are winning games late that percentage might even favor the run as they will be able to eat up the clock late in games. Given that game plan Reed does not have the skill set you are looking for in a starting TE.

On top of the concern with how he fits into the offense is the concern that he can even be healthy enough to be effective. Reed is sidelined currently with a hamstring injury and though it is not expected to be serious, given Reed’s injury history there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical. Through two seasons Reed has been active just 20 out of 32 possible games, and of those 20 games he’s left multiple games early or his been limited in games as he’s returned from injury. In addition Reed has missed time during all three Training camps he’s been in, and has had a series of injuries going back to college. So the idea that the Redskins can count on him for 60 minutes a game over 16 games seems like a stretch.

The loss of Paul and Paulsen won’t just impact the offensive effectiveness this season, as both were key special teams contributors as well. The Redskins special team’s units haven’t been very good of late, but Paul was arguably the best and most consistent performer on special teams. Paulsen doesn’t have as strong of a ST rep as Paul, but he was considered a solid player on special teams and it was considered a big reason why he wasn’t facing serious competition for a roster spot. Now an already weak unit loses two core guys, it’s likely to have an impact on the special team’s performance this season.

Make no mistake the Redskins offense and special teams both took a serious blow with these injuries, and there isn’t an easy solution to replace what Paul and Paulsen brought to the team (particularly Paul). This could limit some of what the Redskins hoped to do on offense this year and it will make things tougher on Alfred Morris and Robert Griffin III. Other players will need to step up, but it seems unlikely the Redskins will be able to adequately compensate for their loss.

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