ASHBURN, Va. – Logan Paulsen played both tight end and defensive end at Chaminade College Preparatory School in Northridge, Calif. He even set a school record with 24 sacks in his junior season.
In his freshman year at UCLA, the two-way player became a one-way player. One overriding factor made it a simple decision.
"The moment I realized I couldn't play defense is when I figured I didn't know how to tackle," Paulsen said. "I never, like, learned that skill, so I had to play offense."
Today he is the No. 1 tight end for the Washington Redskins, a job title even he never thought he'd own — yet he has it for a second time. In just the last week, the 6-foot-5 rugged-looking athlete with long hair sometimes tied in a bun has been publicly called a "gym rat," a "lumberjack" and a "Neanderthal."
With Fred Davis out with a torn Achilles and Chris Cooley working his way back into playing shape after being re-signed, Paulsen has claimed the starting job ahead of Niles Paul and has caught four passes from Robert Griffin III in each of the last two games.
"He's a heady player. You can see it out there when he makes plays," Griffin said. "He's hard to tackle. He looks like a lumberjack out there."
Finding pass-catchers for Griffin has been more of a challenge than anticipated in the Heisman Trophy winner's first season. Injuries to Davis and wideout Pierre Garcon, who remains sidelined with a foot injury, have left Griffin without a prime go-to target, leaving him to spread the ball around to Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson, Joshua Morgan and others, with varying success. Coach Mike Shanahan counted 10 drops in Sunday's 27-12 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he says that second-year receiver Aldrick Robinson will get more playing time in this week's game against the Carolina Panthers.
Enter Paulsen, primarily a blocking tight end who got some starts at the end of the last season when Cooley was hurt and Davis was suspended for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. Paulsen was all prepared to revert to the No. 3 spot again this season until circumstances intervened to move him back to the top.
"Obviously you want it to happen, but I never expected it to happen," Paulsen said. "I thought my role was going to be what it was — a backup and just spot duty, and maybe a second-string guy at some point. And thankfully I'm here, this is my third season and I've been able to stick around have some opportunities. I've got to capitalize on them."
Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan on Thursday called Paulsen one of the coaching staff's "favorite players," the football equivalent of the student who sits on the first row of the classroom and raises his hand whenever the teacher asks a question. Paulsen arrives at Redskins Park at 6:30 a.m. and usually doesn't leave until some 12 hours later.
"Logan is a gym rat. He is in this building as long as anybody," Kyle Shanahan said. "He came in as an undrafted free agent who didn't have much chance to make the team. He's overachieved every year and Logan is a legit player now. He is a very good blocking tight end. He's not blowing by anybody or not really doing just a lot of one-on-one stuff. I call him the 'angle king' because he takes the best angle to everywhere at every time."
And as a pass-catcher?
"He's just reliable. He's a big target. He's a Neanderthal," Kyle Shanahan said. "We joke around with him and call him that because he's just big."
The Redskins in no way expect Paulsen to replace the numbers put up by Davis, who has more speed and athleticism. But when Griffin is scrambling around looking to make a play, the guy with the manly nicknames is easy to spot.
"I don't know if he's the new Fred — Fred's unique in his own abilities in the way he plays," Griffin said. "But Logan's definitely done a good job with what we've asked him to do."
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