Turner thriving as pass-catcher, blocking remains work in progress originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
ASHBURN, Va. — Washington Commanders’ rookie Cole Turner has been a bright spot through the first week-plus of training camp.
The 6-foot-6 tight end has been a frequent target of new quarterback Carson Wentz, as the two have formed a strong connection — one that dates all the way back to OTAs and minicamp. Turner was part of Wentz’s Los Angeles get-together earlier this summer, too. With both Logan Thomas and John Bates injured, Turner has taken first-team reps and made the most of them.
Yet, there is one area of Turner’s game that still has plenty of room for growth: blocking. The fifth-round pick has struggled at times as a blocker throughout camp; his technique and footwork have been inconsistent. It’s understandable that blocking has been a work in progress for Turner, considering he’s a former wide receiver who played a ton out of the slot at Nevada.
Turner is far from the only Commanders tight end that’s struggled as a blocker, too. Both Armani Rogers, a former quarterback at Ohio, and Curtis Hodges, a former wideout, are relatively new to the position as well. Blocking is an area all three of them know they need to improve.
“I’ve spent a lot of time [on it] during OTAs and so did Armani and Curtis,” Turner said Wednesday. “We spent a lot of time with [tight ends] coach [Juan] Castillo, extra time watching film working on just the basics of blocking.”
Turner emphasized that when it comes to blocking, “technique will save you.” Turner knows, as well as the other tight ends, that at times he’ll be tasked with blocking defensive players bigger than him. That’s why having proper technique is so important.
Speaking with the media on Thursday following a walkthrough practice, head coach Ron Rivera also emphasized how important having the correct technique is for Turner and the rest of the tight ends to succeed as blockers.
“I think understanding what it means for him when we talk about leverage, knowing that, ‘Hey, the runner’s going this way. I gotta make sure I’m positioned in this spot.'” Rivera said. “It’s when he’s coming around an edge that the tighter, I say to the offensive line, the better angle I’m gonna create for myself. Understanding those angles to cut guys off with.”
Besides having good leverage, Rivera pointed out different ways Turner can use his body to improve as a protector.
“Hand placement I think he can improve a lot,” Rivera said. “Body posture — in terms of bending at the knees, bending at the hips — so that I am explosive when I go to block. Probably the biggest thing, really, is just understanding his hand placements and where to put his hands on people and again, how to create that leverage.”
Commanders pass rusher Montez Sweat has found himself going up against tight ends at times throughout the first week of camp. On the second day of camp during team drills, Sweat beat Rogers on one play and got to Wentz on what would have been a sack. Sweat then screamed, “don’t put no tight end on me!”
But in the days since then, Sweat has seen an improvement in the tight end group’s blocking ability. In fact, he’s even giving the group some pointers.
“They’re getting better every day and I feel it,” Sweat said. “I feel like it is my job to get them ready for when we do get really rolling. I like to get those guys’ tips and stuff that actually veteran tight ends have used on me. Blocking schemes and stuff like that. I give that knowledge off because I know they’re gonna be able to use it moving forward.”
For Turner, the rookie admitted getting the right footwork down has been the hardest part to pick up in the blocking game. The former Nevada standout knows that once he masters that aspect, he’ll be able to become a better blocker at a much quicker pace.
“Once you get past that, you can start playing fast and you know, blocking,” Turner said. “Half of it is just the mentality of wanting to do it and wanting to be good at it. So I think that every single person in our room has that and they have [the] fight. That’s half the battle.”