His first two NFL catches would come later in the game, but it took only until the second snap of the Redskins game last week at Carolina to show why rookie receiver Niles Paul has drawn rave reviews.
Tim Hightower got the hand-off and ran right on a stretch play. At the snap, Paul first drove veteran cornerback Chris Gamble off the line of scrimmage and then sealed him toward the sideline. Hightower gained 10 yards on the play.
As a receiver, you want to catch passes but me blocking is what put me in this position, Paul said.
Pauls current position is a shot at helping replace Santana Moss void.
In his first extended action, Paul played 25 snaps against the Panthers and his role could expand starting Sunday against Buffalo with Santana Moss out several weeks with a broken hand.
Paul, a fifth-round pick from Nebraska last spring, is a candidate along with Terrence Austin and possibly Leonard Hankerson to pick up Moss snaps.
Like everybody says, when your opportunity comes, you have to take advantage, receivers coach Keenan McCardell said. This is a chance for all these young guys to show everybody they belong. In a sense, show themselves, too. They always say they belong and have the confidence to say that, but until you do it, you dont know.
These guys now have a couple weeks to show theyre big-time players in the NFL.
Paul earned a jersey in the first five games because he made an impression on special teams and moved into a larger role a receiver by starting against Carolina.
All I can do is play the role Ive been given and if it grows and something special happens out of it, that means Im doing my job, he said.
That want-to attitude was evident to McCardell early in the draft process. He could see it on the Nebraska film by the way Paul fearlessly returned kicks and finished off his downfield blocks. And he could hear it when they talked.
Oh, right away, McCardell said. He has a drive to want to be great and thats what you want to see. You want guys who come out every day, compete, work to get better and he understands that.
Like the other rookies, Paul had to learn his first NFL offense on the fly because of the lockout. But that hasnt stunted his progress.
I wasnt able to get as involved with the playbook as early as I wanted so this is an on-going learning process, he said. Week to week, our playbook changes in different aspects so it was definitely hard learning it. In college, what you put in at the beginning of the season is what you run. Here you have to be on your toes for something different.
While still learning the system, Paul has improved his route running and showed versatility playing the X and Y position.
Hes still a little rough around the edges, but you can see the ability to get in and out of cuts, the power that he has and you can see the explosion, McCardell said. I laugh and tell him, You look like a running back when you get the ball. We have to get him the ball and get him running.
Paul has spent the last three months learning from Moss and now he hopes to pick up the slack.
Im ready to be put in this position, he said. Hopefully I can come through in the game.
Contact OHalloran at email@example.com