For NFL rookies, special teams may be their first and only opportunity to make it in professional football. Playing special teams requires a different breed of player; one who is willing to run full-sprint at the opposing team in the ultimate game of Red Rover.
Yesterday, the Redskins sent Niles Paul as their Red Rover. Let’s just say, he came on over:
Most wide receivers are accustomed to dodging big hits, but Paul is developing a reputation for delivering them. But for the former Husker, this is all in the realm of familiar.
“Y’know, I come from Nebraska,” he said. “You can ask Roy–I have no problem with going out and blocking. I have no problem going out there and tackling. I played safety in high school, and was actually recruited to Nebraska as a defensive back.”
“I did get some satisfaction out of jarring that ball loose out there,” he admitted with a smile. “As I was running down the field, I could see him bobbling it, and all I knew was: I’m gonna hit this dude. And I’m gonna hit him hard enough to jar the ball loose, and hopefully somebody will recover it.”
As it worked out, linebacker Perry Riley was knocked into the air and landed on the football. The Redskins converted the turnover for three points and only their second home halftime lead of the season.
The best part of Paul’s Sunday was the simple satisfaction of being back on the field. After being taken out of the lineup in the 49ers game with a turf toe injury, and said he didn’t know what to expect from yesterday’s game.
“I had been limited all week, and coach Shanahan was looking out for me and didn’t wanna put too much pressure on me,” he explained. “But as the game went on, they let me gradually fill back into my role.”
‘Not much pressure’ amounted to an opportunity for a one-handed touchdown grab on the opening drive. One play before Helu punched it in, Paul was targeted in the end zone, but couldn’t quite hold on for the score. On the very next play, Paul sealed off the backside of the offensive line on Helu’s touchdown run.
The team has older receivers and more experienced receivers, but turned to Paul in a role that he has excelled at and embraced.
“All I worry about it what I can control, and what I’m allowed to do,” he said. “I go out there whenever they ask me to and I just play it as hard as I can.
“I’m gonna do whatever I can to be on this team.”
After his play against the Jets, I think they’ll be able to find him a spot.