With Niles Paul and Logan Paulsen sidelined for the season and Jordan Reed hampered by injury, the Redskins are now relying on their three most inexperienced tight ends.
The lost leadership is tough, but for the Washington Redskins, they must rely on three talented, but inexperienced, tight ends moving forward.
With Niles Paul (ankle) and Logan Paulsen (toe) already suffering season-ending injuries -- and with starter Jordan Reed battling a sore hamstring -- Je'Ron Hamm, Chase Dixon and Devin Mahina, who have never played in a regular-season game, will be counted on by tight ends coach Wes Phillips to continue to progress on the fly for the Redskins.
The next question is how the three will react with added bulk to their workloads.
"They're progressing," Phillips told reporters on Saturday. "They've kind of gotten thrown into the fire with the injuries we've had. It's been unfortunate but it's an opportunity for those guys. We like some things that all three of them can do coming into the camp and we didn't think they'd be in the position they are now to really be fighting for reps, but that's where we're at and they're great kids, they're working hard, and they're doing the best they can."
Phillips said all three bring a little bit different skillsets to the field, as Mahina is a "a big, strong-handed, strong-bodied kid," Hamm is "explosive and fast" and Dixon "is kind of a mix between the two."
Hamm is the highest on the unofficial depth chart among the four, listed as the fourth tight end entering Thursday's game against the Cleveland Browns.
The Louisiana-Monroe product suffered an eye injury early in the game, though, limiting his reps at an important juncture.
He'll wear a visor in upcoming games, but the converted wide receiver's focus isn't on the injury.
"Technique, hand placement, footwork, pad level, it's harder than when I first tried, but the coaching Wes Phillips gave me, he made it kind of easy," Hamm said of his transition to tight end. "After a few weeks on the practice squad I was blocking pretty well, and now I'm even better at it."
Dixon was a late-season practice squad signing last year and said "you're scrambling your brain trying to learn the plays," in a scenario like that.
A countdown of the top-10 images of tight end Logan Paulsen during the 2014 season.
But he says his footing is much better this year.
"I have a solid foundation from rookie minicamp and all the OTAs," he told Redskins.com in June. "So now, it's just about going out there, doing my assignment fast, playing physical and actually getting the work done, not just thinking, 'Oh, what is my assignment?'"
Mahina worked with Paulsen a lot during the offseason, as he said the veteran took him under his wing.
"He stays with me after, and we watch film together," Mahina said in the offseason. "He's just trying to teach me everything I need to know to be a great tight end."
The longest-tenured player in the group now is Reed, a talented but oft-injured third-year player out of Florida.
He's been out the last few days, but head coach Jay Gruden believes he'll be at full strength soon.
"We are hoping that with the strength program that he's gone through in the offseason… He has done a good job of getting his body bigger and in better shape," Gruden said. "He just had a little unfortunate twinge but I think he'll be OK. He is going to get the rehab and get that thing right. Just because a guy has a couple injuries early in his career doesn't mean they are going to happen all the time. We hope it's just an occasional thing and it won't happen much. We are going to rely heavily on Jordan obviously and whoever else can step up into that role with him."
Gruden also confirmed that the team is going to work some free agent tight ends out in the coming days.
One option they make explore in the meantime is using an extra blocker, as was the case during Saturday's practice when tackle Tom Compton was in along with the regular offensive line starters.
"We did that a little bit last year throughout the year, so that's a possibility that he can do that," Gruden said. "He's a versatile guy; I doubt he'll catch any passes down the middle of the seam but he can get in there and block, and he can run block and do all the things a tight end needs to do without running routes."
If needed, Phillips believes Compton's experience in the offense could help in protection on the outside.
"He knows all the blocks and really things that he was doing at tackle with the guard are very similar to things he does at tight end with the tackle," Phillips said. "So just the call is different, but he knows all those calls being a tackle so it's kind of a seamless transition and it's just a way for us to get a guy in there who's a lot thicker."
-- Redd Jr., Paulsen Out For Year
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