Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Redskins position review: Tight ends

First, here’s links to the previous position write-ups:

Defensive line
Defensive backs
Running backs
Wide receivers

Tight end, of course, is one of the more secure positions on the team and the one where I think most of us expect little if any offseason movement.

Chris Cooley’s stats were good – his catches and yards per catch were comparable to 2008 – and yet I think most people who watched him play would agree that he wasn’t quite up to form. The open field running ability wasn’t as evident, and of course there were far more drops than we’re used to. And while I am usually the first to criticize fans or announcers who try to read into a players body language on the field… well I make an exception here because after most plays he just seemed not quite right. The fact that he played on a torn meniscus (secret til the end of the year, perhaps because it was caused by getting beat up by a girl) in a way came as a relief, as he had had me a little bit worried.

Of course half of Cooley’s job is blocking. In 2009 he was simply terrible beyond belief as a blocker, and was personally responsible for many of the Redskins’ failed running plays. He certainly looked better this season, especially at the beginning, but he will never be a balanced tight end in the Jason Witten mold. He should pretty much never be left one on one in pass protection against an end – he lacks both the strength to take them head on and the nimble feet to adjust to a perimeter threat. And he still had trouble locking onto defenders in the running game. He was also a repeat offender on one of my pet peeves from 2010 – zone blocks in which both member of a partnered pair chipped their defender and went to the second level, and neither stayed with the original block. Impossible to say which guy’s fault that is, but Cooley seemed to be involved in a good number of them so I have my suspicions. Again, he was much better in the first few games, so I have to wonder if the knee trouble grew worse as the season wore on and impacted his blocking.

It's inevitable that there will be speculation about trading Cooley - given multiple areas of need and the fact that he is in his prime and plays the only Redskins position with some depth, it has to at least be considered. But Ithough I can't rule it out, I would be surprised if it happens. Especially since Mike Shanahan does not seem to have much confidence in Fred Davis.

I am a bit worried about Davis. He was never really integrated into the passing game, and given the weaknesses of the wide receiver corps that is pretty surprising. We’ve seen his raw athletic ability, so one has to wonder if Shanahan found that the old work ethic and maturity issues are still lingering. I assume we’re not nearly at the point of cutting ties yet, and it could be with another year in the system he will earn Shanahan’s trust, but a mere 21 catches last year means his situation bears watching. Shanahan doesn’t much care that a second round pick was spent on the guy.

Third tight end Logan Paulsen turned out to be a nice little find. You may recall that he was informed he was being released on cut down day – apparently the plan was to go with two tight ends and put Sellers in motion when a third was needed. But several hours later another call came and a spot was found for him. He didn’t get on the filed much til the second half of the season, but when given a chance he performed well. He was very consistent in finding and executing his blocks, and showed dependable hands when the defense forgot about him and let him spring wide open. Much like the departed Todd Yoder, he did exactly what you want a third tight end to do – he accomplished his job consistently but unspectacularly and rarely visibly screwed up.

Assuming the Cooley trade scenario does not come to pass, there’s no reason to expect any significant change in this position. Of course the fact that Mike Shanahan nearly went with two tight ends last year he clearly thinks he can run his system that way if need be, so if depth is badly needed elsewhere it’s at least conceivable that Paulsen could be in jeopardy. I consider that unlikely, however, as Paulsen seems to have demonstrated that he deserves a roster spot.

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