I have already taken a look at camp battles for wide receivers and running backs, but the tight end position is where things start to look hairy. In fact, there might not be much of a "battle" at the position at all.
Unlike most positions, you don't have your throw-away "camp bodies" at tight end this year, save for rookie undrafted free agent Emmanuel Ogbuehi. The other four names carry more familiarity, and enough weight to make the final 53.
Fred Davis is entering the fifth season of a career that has been marred by injuries, suspension, but also great potential. There have been times where he has looked every bit of the part of a top tight end in the NFL, but just when he begins to break out, he gets sidelined.
In 2011, his four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy ended his best season to date, one that likely would have seen him eclipse 1,000 receiving yards and 70 catches had he played the whole season. In 2012, the offense looked to have hit its stride in Week 7, but Davis injured his Achilles tendon and missed the rest of the season.
His 2011 season feels like ages ago, and people will soon grow tired of envisioning what he could do in this offense and start lamenting that he isn't doing it right now. Though he sat out minicamp, head coach Mike Shanahan said Davis should be ready to go once training camp begins July 25, and it's a good thing he will be because he has a lot to prove once again. Make no mistake though, Davis is not only a lock to make the roster after re-signing in March, but a lock to start on opening week barring any setbacks with his health.
Logan Paulsen received the bulk of the snaps when Davis went down midseason, and performed quite well under the circumstances. He is by far the team's best blocking tight end, and was never asked to do much in the passing game. Even so, production followed as he contributed 25 catches and 308 receiving yards in a system that gets its tight ends wide open. "Flashy" would be a bad word to describe Paulsen, but he has been everything his coaches could ever want from an undrafted rookie free agent they scooped up in 2010. His knowledge of their system is vital, as they'll need him to soak up snaps while they continue to familiarize Niles Paul with the position and Jordan Reed with the playbook.
That isn't to say Paul won't get his chances on the field. When the coaching staff converted him to tight end in 2012, they envisioned a constant mismatch. On paper, this makes a lot of sense. Paul is a physical receiver with good size, and his experience as a route runner could be too much for linebackers to handle and could force defensive coordinators to put a safety over top of him and vacate the top of the defense.
But things didn't go completely according to plan, as Paul struggled to adjust to the new position. Drops were an issue, and he never had the look of someone who was completely comfortable with his assignments. With a year under his belt, all eyes will be expecting improvements in his game. In the meantime, Paul has kept his spot on the roster by being a solid special teams contributor. He's handled kickoff responsibilities and contributed 10 tackles in coverage. After losing special-teams ace Lorenzo Alexander in free agency, the team needs someone with proven ability in this area, which is why Paul should make the team once again.
That leaves Reed, who is the newcomer to the tight end group in Washington, and is dealing with some health issues of his own. Like Davis, he also sat out minicamp, but this was due to a bone bruise to his knee. His mold is more similar to Davis and Paul than it is to Paulsen, and once he logs his hours on the practice field and the film room, he can be a versatile, devastating weapon.
But things aren't off to a fast start with him, and the extra depth at the position allows him to not be thrust into action immediately. But make no mistake, he will get his chance to prove himself on the field, whether it's by mid-season or not until next year. Reed is a third-round pick, which is too heavy an investment to not be given a chance, and especially too heavy to be relegated to the practice squad. Because of that, it looks very likely that the Redskins will carry four tight ends this season.