Without Niles Paul and Trent Williams, the Redskins will need contributions from multiple different players to keep up the diversity in formations and play-calling on offense.
There was no Redskins player that embodied the saying "look beyond the box score" more than tight end Niles Paul. After missing the entire 2015 season due to injury, Paul's 2016 campaign has been cut in half as he'll miss the final eight games due to a labrum injury.
Paul became a key member of the Redskins passing attack in 2014, totaling 39 catches for 507 yards and a touchdown, providing a useful complement to standout tight end Jordan Reed. Unfortunately for Paul, his blossoming career was halted when he fractured his ankle in the 2015 preseason opener. He was ruled out for the season and became a spectator for the Redskins' NFC East title run. For his comeback from the season-ending injury, Paul was awarded Friday with the Redskins' 2016 Ed Block Courage Award.
This past offseason the Redskins added veteran tight end Vernon Davis, creating one of the league's best tight end groups. However, for Paul, it meant limited pass-catching opportunities. He had just two receptions for 27 yards before sustaining his season-ending shoulder injury in the overtime period of Washington's tie with Cincinnati in London.
Paul continued to contribute, though. He was a special teams captain, playing the fourth-most special teams snaps on the Redskins. Offensively, he had transitioned into a fullback role, laying huge blocks regularly in a rejuvenated Redskins running game.
"It's everything," Houston Bates said of Paul's unselfishness in mid-October. "It's what you want to be. It's what every coach looks in in a player – guys that do anything for the team to help the unit, and that's what Niles does. He makes sacrifices. Any time you have a veteran leader like that – that will say I'll take a scout team rep, I'll play special teams, start in three of all four phases, then you're going to have a good chance to win."
Paul's continued ability to make himself valuable leaves the Redskins in a tough spot with his impending absence. Tight end Derek Carrier, who returned to practice this week after spending the first nine weeks on the Physically Unable to Perform list (PUP), could potentially be an option at fullback. As could Reed and Davis, who have both been applauded for their blocking abilities this season.
"If we can get Derek ready, he could be a possibility," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said. "Jordan Reed's done some of that before and Vernon can pop back there and do some of it also. If we choose to do that, we have a lot of different ways to attack people with one-back plays and things of that nature – offset gun plays. So it's not totally necessary for us to have a fullback, but if we do need one, we have options with those three guys."
Another popular wrinkle the Redskins have used this year is deploying tackle Ty Nsekhe as an extra tight end in a jumbo package for short yardage situations due to his size and athletic ability. However, the Redskins have lost depth along the offensive line with left tackle Trent Williams being suspended for four games. Nsekhe will be inserted into the starting lineup at left tackle, which potentially may mean the "giant" package will be used little or not at all.
"That's a little bit harder to run, especially with Ty coming in there as the extra tight end," Gruden said. "So that probably could be (shelved). But we have [Vinston] Painter will probably be up and he could possibly fill that void if we choose to do that."
Painter, a fourth-year tackle from Virginia Tech, would be playing in his first NFL regular season game since 2014 if he makes an appearance Sunday. The Redskins also added second-year tackle Blaine Causell to the active roster. Causell, who entered the league as an undrafted free agent from Mississippi State, was signed off the Baltimore Ravens practice squad Monday.