In a room of converts, commanders find competition, potential on tight end

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Sandwiched between a trip to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where he would scout a quarterback, and a day out west to check on a highly touted receiver, Scott Turner pressed dinner and a private practice session. in Reno, Nevada.

In a busy few weeks of traveling around the country, with an eye mostly on quarterbacks and receivers, Turner and other Washington COs’ coaching staff and staff took a detour in somehow. They wanted to get a close look at a 6-foot-5 and wide former University of Nevada basketball player who they thought showed promise as a tight end.

“Everyone thought we were working [quarterback] Carson Strong,” Turner said in a recent interview. “But really, we were there to see Cole Turner.”

In the short history of Commanders with Ron Rivera as head coach and Scott Turner as offensive coordinator, they grew to love converts – receivers who switched to running back, cornerbacks who moved to safety and especially the athletes from all walks of life. who went to tight end – receivers, quarterbacks even international basketball players.

Ron Rivera hopes a contract with Terry McLaurin arrives. When? “I do not know.”

“It’s kind of something we’re looking for because my first year here, one of the things we talked about was flexible guys in position, able to move around and do different things,” Rivera said. “Well, it’s one of those things that sort of applies to tight end position.”

Logan Thomas, the former Virginia Tech fourth-round quarterback, is their star student. But behind him is a cast of players still learning.

And as Thomas recovers from a serious knee injury he suffered last December, this young cast faces critical training camp to prove their potential at a position that Scott Turner – and his new quarterback – fullback, Carson Wentz – strongly favors. (Since 2017, Wentz has ended 31.1% of his goals, the second-highest rate among quarterbacks behind Lamar Jackson.) The competition has brought optimism, but also uncertainty as Rivera and his team are, once again, trying to find a reliable body of pass catchers and complete blockers.

Last year, the team kept four tight ends on its initial roster of 53 players. If the same thing happens this year, that leaves maybe two spots up for grabs, assuming Thomas and John Bates, a fifth-round pick last year who is the only tight end in the room to play the job throughout his academic and professional career, are in good health and have a lock on the first two jobs.

Bates, who was seen primarily as an outgoing blocking tight end for Boise State, impressed the freshman year, when he became a starter due to injuries in that position. Its evolution to a fuller tight end has already garnered praise.

Behind Bates are four players – Cole Turner, Antonio Gandy-Golden, Curtis Hodges and Armani Rogers – relatively new to the position. But they have the size and athleticism that have become required for the job, and with a little coaching, commanders envision a group that can provide options. Over the past two years, the team has struggled with a series of injuries, forcing them to turn to many young players at the start of the season.

This season, they hope for more stability. More so, they hope for a long-term production.

Cole Turner, a 6-foot-6, 240-pound former basketball player and wide receiver who moved to tight end two years ago, is the youngest of the bunch at 22, but perhaps the most promising. A pretty raw receiver coming out of Clackamas, Oregon, Turner weighed 190 pounds when he started his college career. But in three years he filled 250, fitting the bill as a red zone weapon and magnet for 50-50 bullets. like his hand back-shoulder grab on a grounded road against Idaho State last year. Or his touchdown three weeks later against Boise State when he rotated 180 degreesfalling almost parallel to the ground in the corner of the end zone.

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“We just did it against everyone we’ve faced,” said Jay Norvell, the former Nevada head coach who was selected to lead Colorado State this year. “Everyone in our stadium knew we were going to do it. The defense knew we were going to do it.

In the Nevada Air Raid attack, Cole Turner was used primarily as a receiver, but Norvell found many ways to exploit Turner as an offset.

“[Bill] Belichick used to talk about the tight end and say, “It’s the one position that changes every formation in football. When you move tight ends, the defense has to adapt,” Norvell said. “So I always remembered that. I loved putting all of our receivers on one side and flexing Cole from the back. They’d have to turn corners or they’d have to play a safety or a linebacker on him, and every time they did, it was a mismatch.

Castillo could see the potential for even more. In the months leading up to the draft, he often spoke with his receivers and Nevada tight ends coach Chad Savage (now Colorado State receivers coach). Castillo also met Cole Turner at the combine and again in Reno for dinner, alongside Scott Turner and Washington Executive Vice President Marty Hurney.

“When you’re sitting like that, you get a good sense of the individual,” Castillo said. “And he’s been everything I thought he would be, and more – being a hard worker is very important to him, his job is very important, he’s willing to do the extra work, he can handle adversity and he is a physical child.”

To try and prove Castillo right, Cole Turner spent much of his off-season training for the draft in Irvine, Calif., with former 49ers offensive tackle Joe Staley and Jason Garrett’s brother John Garrett. and former head coach at Lafayette College. . Their goal: blocking.

“It’s something that I know a lot of people still like to call a knock in my game,” Cole Turner said. “I want to make it a strength and I want to be a versatile player.”

Blocking may be the toughest transition for the four tight ends vying for jobs in Washington. Another who has impressed is another converted receiver, Gandy-Golden, who has changed positions this offseason.

The Commanders’ 2020 fourth-round pick, Gandy-Golden spent time on injured reserve as a rookie and was sent to the practice squad twice. But when he arrived for off-season training in the spring, his weight had risen to more than 230 pounds, up at least 12 pounds since the end of last season.

“They were like, ‘You look good and we think changing you would be good for us and good for you too. You should be able to be part of the team and have an impact,’ a- he said, “And I felt the same. … My mother had always thought it was a good idea. In fact, she said that a few years ago, which is crazy.

Turner and Gandy-Golden have competition from three other converts: Sammis Reyes, a former Division I basketball player who had never played organized football before joining the Commanders in 2021; Hodges, a former 6-8 wide receiver at Arizona State; and Rogers, formerly a quarterback at UNLV and Ohio.

Although all face steep learning curves, their progress so far has sparked optimism. Perhaps Washington’s least anticipated band may be the deepest.

“It’s very competitive, really,” Rivera said of tight ends. “…We are a bit more athletic as we start to get into our depth and I think that can play into the things Scott [Turner] wants to do with the different staff groups by not just being a team of 11 (one running back, one tight end) and 12 staff, but we can be 11, 12, 13.

“And even if we get a little salty, we could use 14 staff if we wanted to.”

Training camp details announced

There will be no trip to Richmond this year.

The commanders will hold a training camp at their headquarters in Ashburn, from July 27 to August 27. All workouts will be free to fans, but due to limited space, priority for Ashburn workouts will go to season ticket holders, suite owners and corporate partners. . Remaining spots will be available through a fan lottery that will open closer to the start of camp.

For the August 6 practice, fans can claim tickets on a first-come, first-served basis.

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