With training camp set to begin next month, Redskins.com previews the current state of the Redskins' roster, continuing today with the team's tight ends.
The Washington Redskins will enter Richmond with relatively the same group of tight ends as last season but for the addition of rookie Jeremy Sprinkle and free agent addition Manasseh Garner. After suffering an injury last November that limited his production, Jordan Reed returns healthy to lead a deep group of veteran players.
ROSTER SUBTRACTION(S):- N/A
- Jeremy Sprinkle
- Manasseh Garner
CURRENT STATE OF THE UNIT:
Despite three players missing time due to injuries in 2016, the Redskins still saw solid production from their tight end group. That was due in large part to the stability of Vernon Davis, who had a bit of a renaissance in his first year with the Redskins.
The University of Maryland product delivered quite the homecoming, catching 44 passes for 583 yards and two touchdowns, helping to stabilize a unit that saw its contributors stumble at various points through the year. The Redskins made sure to reward him this offseason with a multi-year contract, ensuring that the 33-year-old would be able to stay in his hometown for much longer.
He will undoubtedly continue to provide another big target for quarterback Kirk Cousins, who will have his option of throwing to several 6-foot and taller behemoths around the field at receiver. That also includes tight end Jordan Reed, who returns fully healthy after another solid campaign in 2016.
Reed didn't catch a touchdown pass until the fourth week of the season, but he remained a dangerous weapon out of the slot and out wide, running around defenses unsure of how to stop his versatile presence on the field.
His production totals dropped from his breakout 2015 season – 66 catches for 686 yards and six touchdowns in 2016 – mostly due to a shoulder injury he suffered on Thanksgiving against the Dallas Cowboys. In a monster game in which he caught 10 passes and two touchdowns, he landed hard in the back of the end zone and missed the following game against Arizona.
He would miss a second game in Chicago a few weeks later and managed just seven total catches after the injury. Still, he grinded through those final games to give defenses something to worry about and spent the offseason getting healthy and rehabbing, joining the team for minicamp in June.
Niles Paul operated in a slightly different way last season, working some as a fullback and contributing heavily on special teams again. His services at tight end were diminished a little with the addition of Davis, as Paul only caught two passes for 27 yards.
After missing the entirety of 2015, Paul's season was cut in half when he suffered a shoulder injury that landed him on Injured Reserve against the Bengals in London.
On Saturday, April 29, 2017, the Washington Redskins selected tight end Jeremy Sprinkle with the 154th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Around the same time, Derek Carrier made his way back to the roster after missing the entire offseason and nearly first three months of the regular season after suffering a torn ACL in a game against the Bears. He contributed in limited amounts over eight games, with two catches for 10 yards.
The Redskins also added some youth to the mix this spring when they drafted Jeremy Sprinkle from the University of Arkansas. Listed as 6-foot-5, 252 pounds, Sprinkle recorded 71 receptions for nearly 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns – an Arkansas school record for tight ends -- in his four seasons with the Razorbacks. But he's best in pass protection and working off opposing defenses with superb hand placement and long arms.
The team also brought in Manasseh Garner, 25, who first entered the NFL as a college free agent in 2015. He has spent portions of time on the offseason rosters for the Kansas City Chiefs, Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills and Denver Broncos.
During the 2016 season, the 6-foot-2, 220 pounder spent a majority of the season on the Bills' practice squad and was briefly called up the active roster in November.
WHAT TO WATCH:
The lower half of the tight end depth chart should provide one of the more intriguing competitions throughout training camp this year. After Reed and Davis, the Redskins will have some decisions to make regarding Paul, Carrier and Sprinkle, depending on who makes the bigger splash – both at tight end and on special teams.
Let's start with Sprinkle, who tight ends coach Wes Phillips has been particularly bullish on throughout the offseason practices. He will likely have a tough time jumping straight to the active roster, but could make a case for the team to carry four tight ends depending on his special teams and blocking play.
"I think people say he's known for his blocking just because he is a big guy but he caught a lot of passes at Arkansas as well and showed a lot of skill in the pass game," Phillips said. "He's got big hands, soft hands, he can get in and out of breaks for a big man and you know, almost 6'5 over 250 pounds, he can really get in and out of breaks and then in the run game, we're working on bend and power and things that I would work on with anybody we got in here you know, as a rookie. But, he's got a great understanding of scheme, they ran a pro-style offense, he understands the plays and where we're going and what the adjustments are. He's been a pleasant surprise as far as his knowledge, how fast he's been able to pick it all up."
Paul will likely benefit from his versatility, in part because of what he showed last year playing some fullback and splitting out in wide on occasion. His recovery from his shoulder injury went by exceptionally fast – many coaches call him a freak of nature – and he looks ready to stake his claim as the third tight end.
"He's the hardest working guy here and he's performed very well," Gruden said of him. "He does some tight end, he does some fullback, he can split outside, very versatile. He's also a key member of our special teams. He's done excellent. I can't say enough about that whole tight end group, really. The rookie [Jeremy] Sprinkle's done a good job, Derek Carrier's been outstanding and then Vernon Davis, the ageless one, has done an incredible job also. I've been very impressed with that whole group."
This offseason has also been the first for Carrier fully healthy with the Redskins. He will aim, along with Garner, to execute each day and put together consecutive successful days of practice in Richmond.
"I pride myself in being a complete player and since I have made that conversion to tight end I have improved every year," Carrier said. "You never stop learning or getting better but I feel I have come a long ways and it's fun to be able to continually improve. That is just something I look forward to and, like I said earlier, just really focusing on good days in practice where play back-to-back-to-back and I am not in pain."
REDSKINS IN RICHMOND: