Niles Paul: Healthy roster makes Redskins a 'force to be reckoned with'

ASHBURN, Va. -- The optimism among the Washington Redskins stems in large part from what they did last season, increasing their win total by five games and winning the NFC East. It also stems from who returns from injuries.

The Redskins had four starters miss at least 13 regular-season games and three others miss at least seven. Of that group, only corner Chris Culliver, who missed 10 games, is gone. The rest return.

“We were wounded last year and now we’re going to come in full health this year so we’re a force to be reckoned with,” tight end Niles Paul said. “That’s what I believe.”

Offensively, the Redskins lost three starters for at least seven games. They already had a group that was young and inexperienced in some areas, including at quarterback. Thanks to injuries, their line for much of last season included four players who had little to no experience before 2015.

Here’s a look at those who missed most if not all of last season, and their potential impact in 2016:

Linebacker Junior Galette (16 regular-season games missed): We've covered how he looked last summer (great) and the potential impact he could have (huge). His ability to turn the corner was impressive, but he also knew how to execute stunts and rush to the inside. Galette says he’s around 85 percent recovered from his Achilles’ injury. If he regains his explosiveness, he’ll provide what Washington desperately needs: a stronger pass rush.

Paul (16): He had finally bulked up to more than 250 pounds, looking more like a tight end and less like the receiver he was as a 2011 draft pick. In his first three seasons at tight end, there were times he couldn’t hold his blocks due to his size disadvantage. The added weight should help in the run game and the tight end blocking was a major issue in this area last year. The Redskins kept having to find other players at this spot. Also, Paul provides the Redskins with someone who can block a little, catch and play fullback in a pinch. Paul’s leadership and special-teams play also are beneficial.

Tight end Logan Paulsen (16): More special-teams depth and blocking help at tight end. Paulsen was inconsistent in 2014 -- it’s why some in the organization felt he was on the roster bubble -- but he also gives Washington size (268 pounds). That’s at least 20 pounds heavier than the current listed weights of Paul, Vernon Davis and Jordan Reed. Only Marcel Jensen (270) currently weighs more among all tight ends on the roster. The key for Paulsen will be how well he moves coming off a turf toe injury. Paulsen is the tight end the coaches use to show others the blocking technique they want and he’s one of the smartest players on the roster. This stat doesn’t fall on tight ends alone, but it is telling: On runs outside the tackles last season, Washington ranked 29th in yards per carry at 4.20.

Guard Shawn Lauvao (13): In the first three games last season, the Redskins ranked fifth in the NFL at 4.59 yards per carry. But Lauvao missed the final 13 due to an ankle injury that required surgery. In those games, Washington ranked 31st at 3.39 yards per run. To solely blame his replacement, Spencer Long, for that would be misguided; many other factors contributed to the run game's demise. Long improved as the season progressed, but he also was in his first season not only starting but playing substantial snaps. Lauvao, who was inconsistent at best in 2014, was playing well and gives the Redskins someone who can block on the move. If healthy, his return will be welcomed by the Redskins.

Safety Duke Ihenacho (15): It’s hard to know the impact of his loss because he’s only played 12 snaps in two seasons with Washington thanks to injuries. The coaches liked him enough to award him the starting job last summer. If nothing else he can provide depth as he has a stronger challenger in David Bruton for starting strong safety than he did last year (Jeron Johnson, who was cut and remains unsigned).

Linebacker Adam Hayward (16): He would have been a special-teamer and backup last season. He’s considered a strong voice on special teams, which is always good. But he’ll turn 32 in June and coming off consecutive season-ending injuries, the Redskins could opt for younger, cheaper backups who play special teams.

Center Kory Lichtensteiger (11): He missed 11 games with nerve damage in his shoulder. If the team feels he’s at full strength, they’ll keep him around. But they are working Long at center just in case. Lichtensteiger handles line calls well and does a solid job getting to linebackers, but he’s also undersized and that can lead to issues -- especially if his shoulder is bothering him.