Changing positions is like changing religions. Added faith is required.
Niles Paul moved to tight end over the offseason at Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan's suggestion. And when a coach suggests something, the implied "or else" usually means getting released.
"I could have stayed at receiver," Paul said. "Hey, wherever I need to make this team is OK. [Shanahan] could have just cut me. He's trying to find me a home out here on the field, and I respect that."
Paul reminds Shanahan of former Denver tight end Shannon Sharpe, a Pro Football Hall of Famer who also played for the coach. Indeed, the two are within one inch and five pounds of each other, and both sport lean, muscular frames. Sharpe even visited with tight ends at Redskins Park over the offseason to discuss the position.
"[Paul's] a natural football player," Shanahan said. "There's a guy 235 pounds and runs like a wide receiver. He could be a punt returner or kickoff returner. You could put him in the backfield as a running back. He's got that type of athletic ability. Play any position on special teams. ... The reason why we moved him is we thought he could be exceptional at the tight end position because of his size, his strength, his blocking ability. Now we're waiting to see if he can get it done."
Paul, who made just two receptions after being picked in the fifth round last year, is moving to a position with two standout veterans, but it's still a better spot for him. After the Redskins added two prominent free agent receivers, several talented reserves may not make the team, much less someone who didn't play much as a rookie.
Changing positions isn't unusual in the NFL, though it often happens during the transition from college to a rookie season. And it's often with a tweener who doesn't quite fit one position physically. Paul certainly has the speed; he was a multiple Nebraska prep state champion in track.
But Paul's 6-foot-1, 233-pound frame makes him an ideal tight end given he can block and outrun linebackers much like teammate Fred Davis. With Chris Cooley returning from his second significant injury in three seasons, the Redskins felt Paul could bolster the position. Cooley seemingly is now healthy, but the Redskins can use all three tight ends.
"I'm a lot quicker and faster than the guys down low, so I have an advantage," Paul said. "I'm able to get the leverage a lot of time, so I'm taking them to my advantage [rather] than outmuscle these guys."
Paul also might end up as a returner if Brandon Banks doesn't make the team. Banks has fared well early in camp in trying to prove he's worth keeping as a receiver and a returner, but Paul is a possible replacement after averaging 24.5 yards on kickoff returns and 10.8 yards on punts returns at Nebraska.
For someone once without a position, Paul may have two. It was certainly worth the risk of moving to tight end.