Head coach Ron Rivera had one of the better tight ends in the NFL for years when Greg Olsen was with the Carolina Panthers. From the time he was acquired from the Chicago Bears, Olsen was a reliable option for whoever was under center.
Now with the Redskins, Rivera believes he might have something similar in newly-signed Logan Thomas.
With offensive coordinator Scott Turner bringing in a system that relies heavily on tight ends, the Redskins needed to reinforce a position that did not produce much last year. They needed a primary pass-catcher like Olsen, Rivera told local media earlier this week, and although Thomas still has much to prove, he and the team believes he can have a breakout season in Washington.
"We see some glimpses of that type of athletic ability," Rivera said. "He's a tremendous athlete."
It's been four years since Thomas decided to switch to tight end while he was bouncing around training camps in 2015 and 2016. Although he was a gifted athlete dating back to his high school career, the former Virginia Tech quarterback admitted during OTAs last year that it took some time for him to adjust.
Thomas told the Buffalo Bills website in 2016 that he had to learn a completely different set of ideas and verbiage. Thankfully, he added, going from quarterback to tight end was easier than going from tight end to quarterback.
Understanding passing concepts came naturally to Thomas; whicthat was the part that carried over from his time under center. Learning how to block was more of a challenge, but that also improved over time to the point where J.D. McKissic, who was his teammate in Detroit, said Thomas became a player who loves it.
Eventually, Thomas was volunteering to be the key blocker on running plays. McKissic said whenever the Lions designed plays to get him the ball, Thomas would ask the coaching staff to put him in for jet sweeps or other unique ways to give McKissic the chance to make plays on the ground.
"That's what I've learned with my transition, and I feel like I get better every day," Thomas said.
It's clear that Thomas has a knack for the position. He has improved in each season since he was signed by the Bills. Despite getting less than a third of the offensive snaps with the Lions in 2019, he managed to record career-highs in targets (28), receptions (16) and yards (173).
That kind of production in such limited action was enough to impress McKissic.
"I got there Week 1, and once I saw him and the way he moved and caught the ball, I thought he was the guy," McKissic told reporters April 1. "I've seen Logan in every game and in every situation where we needed him. He always came through."
Rivera described Thomas as a smart and savvy players, which made tight ends coach Pete Hoener feel "very strongly" about his athletic ability.
"Remember, he is a converted quarterback, a guy that has a skillset that is a little unique because of his understanding of the way offenses work," Rivera added.
Turner has said the tight end position is going to be an important piece to the Redskins offense, and Rivera backed up that claim by saying the Redskins will have multiple sets with two or even three tight ends in certain personnel sets.
That, combined with the prospect of working with Hoener, who has coached Pro Bowl tight ends like Olsen and Delanie Walker, made signing with his hometown team an easy decision.
"That's exactly the opportunity that I want," Thomas said. "I think it's a great offense. I think it's a good opportunity for our playmakers to make some plays. And everything I've heard about Coach Pete from my past tight ends coaches to other players around the league, he's a great coach and a great man."
Hoener believes it's hard to find a complete tight end. They're part offensive lineman and part receiver, so he likes to work with players who have the right athletic ability and the right mindset to succeed at the position.
He and Rivera believe they have found that in Thomas, who could become more productive with a chance to be a key contributor. Those who have seen him play feel like he is up to the task.
"He's one of those guys who could be depended on and get a much bigger role than the role he had in Detroit," McKissic said. "He's a quarterback and he's a tight end that can do a lot of things."