Before the Redskins visited the Giants in Week 7, tight end Logan Paulsen had exactly zero catches in six games this season. During his three-year career, Paulsen had 13 catches for 148 yards in 33 games.
So it was extremely unlikely that the blocking specialist was going to suddenly develop into a receiving threat. However, starting tight end Fred Davis, who had caught more passes than anyone on the Redskins over the last two seasons, ruptured his left Achilles in the first quarter against the Giants and Paulsen was thrust into an unexpected role.
"I thought my role was going to be what it was," Paulsen said. "I was going to be a backup, just kind of spot duty, maybe a second-string guy at some point. Thankfully, I've been able to stick around and I have this opportunity."
Paulsen has done much more with the opportunity created by Davis' injury than he did after Davis was suspended for the final four games of 2011 with 2007-08 Pro Bowl pick Chris Cooley on injured reserve. In that span, Paulsen produced just four catches for 43 yards, but over the past three games, Paulsen leads the Redskins with 14 catches for 200 yards. Backup tight ends Niles Paul and Chris Cooley have two catches for 59 yards.
"Last year, (Logan) was just the third guy (behind Davis and Cooley) and knew that specific role," said offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. "He had some ups and downs (as the starter). This year -- since Fred got hurt and he's stepped into that starting role, he's been much better."
Paulsen, who had 71 catches for 888 yards while dealing with constant changes of offensive coordinators at UCLA, has gotten better because he has only played in one system in Washington and because he won't be outworked.
"I don't want to leave any stone unturned," said Paulsen, who is usually at Redskins Park by 6:30 a.m. and doesn't leave for 12 hours. I know that I'm not the most physically talented guy so I need to make up for that in other ways. I just work at it, just grind it. If you're willing to put in the time, it will pay dividends for you. I've always felt that, even in high school and college. I felt very confident that I was going to be prepared if the opportunity came. I've been solid, (but) I can definitely get better. I look to get better every day, starting today."
Paulsen is adaptable enough that he also played defensive end -- "until I figured (as a freshman) I didn't know how to tackle so I had to play offense" - and punted at Chaminade College Prep in Northridge, Calif.
"There's always stuff to improve on," he said. "You can't be content in this league. Guys who last are guys who are here all the time doing what I'm doing even with the success they've had. (Captain London Fletcher, a 15-year veteran) is here 24/7. He's always studying. He's always trying to get better. I try to follow their example. I'm a better player in every component of what I do from when I first got here. I see the game differently. I execute the game differently. It's really night and day."
No wonder coach Mike Shanahan called Paulsen, who made the Redskins as a rookie free agent in 2010, "a student of the game" and Kyle Shanahan called him "one of our favorite players." Their admiration for the 6-5, 261-pound Paulsen only rose with his tumbling 23-yard catch on fourth-and-10 in the final minutes that jump-started the drive that put Washington ahead at New York and with his career-high 31-yard catch the next week at Pittsburgh on a cold, wet day during which his teammates dropped 10 passes.
Of course, no matter how hard he works, Paulsen will never have Davis' speed or Cooley's knack for getting open, but with the former coming off a serious injury and lacking a contract for next year and the latter having been cut once, Paulsen can't help but dream about what might be in 2013 and beyond.
"I'd be lying if I said that (being the starter) doesn't creep into my mind at some point, but I try not to think about it," he said. "I just try to focus on the task at hand this week, this opportunity, make the most of that, and we'll see where that mindset leads me at the end of the season."