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Logan Thomas a vital part of Washington's upgraded offense

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ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Football Team tight end Logan Thomas won't surprise anyone anymore. Not after topping his previous high catch total by 56 receptions; not after establishing himself as a quality red zone threat. Duplicating his breakout 2020 season could be difficult.

But ...

Washington added more offensive playmakers around him, including a quarterback who loves to throw the ball, two more wide receivers with speed and another who has succeeded in the slot.

While Thomas, who turns 30 on July 1, doesn't see himself as a finished product, he does view himself as on the rise. He says he can still add to his game, especially as a downfield threat. That's why he spent part of the offseason studying tight ends such as the San Francisco 49ers' George Kittle, Kansas City Chiefs' Travis Kelce and Las Vegas Raiders' Darren Waller.

"When I talk about a complete tight end, he has to be in the top 5, 6 or 7 in the league," Washington tight ends coach Pete Hoener said of Thomas. "The way he blocks, his total attitude as a real pro, his leadership qualities and then his production as a receiver. I look for that to keep going up and up."

Thomas caught 72 passes and six touchdowns last season after finishing with 16 catches the season before with the Detroit Lions. Washington's scouts and coaches liked how he moved, especially his first-step quickness. They knew he was athletic, having been drafted in the fourth round out of Virginia Tech by the Arizona Cardinals as a quarterback in 2014. He moved to tight end three years later, catching a combined 35 passes his first three seasons.

"It's crazy to think how far I've come," Thomas said. "A couple years ago I'd never believe I'd be in the position I am now. I'm excited to prove what [Hoener] said true."

For the first time, Thomas said, he'll play in the same offense for a second season. That eliminates another year of learning the details of the offense. He also has a feel for how defenses will play him, allowing him to adjust accordingly. He can run more routes.

"For me, that's huge," Thomas said of another season in Washington. "You're just building off last year."

Washington wanted more speed outside at wide receiver, so it added Curtis Samuel and third-round draft pick Dyami Brown to pair with speedy Terry McLaurin. It also signed a solid slot receiver in Adam Humphries. Running back Antonio Gibson could have a bigger role, too. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has plenty of options besides Thomas.

But in the past two seasons, Fitzpatrick averaged 9.98 yards per attempt on throws to the tight end; his career average is 7.86. Also, 10.6% of those throws were for 20 air yards or more compared to 5.7 for his career.

That plays well with where Thomas wants to develop. Last season, he averaged 7.39 air yards per target, 15th best among tight ends, according to ESPN Stats & Information. And he was tied for 19th with five plays of 20 yards or more. He averaged 9.31 yards per catch, 24th among tight ends.

"Last year, I proved that I made a good amount of plays underneath," he said.

But he does want more. Kelce and Waller ranked first and second in the NFL on plays of 20 or more yards with 23 and 16, respectively. Thomas also watched a lot of Kittle, who has 24 such plays in his past 17 games.

Thomas studied their releases -- at the line and down the field when confronted with another defender. He watched how Waller used a physical style and length to win, getting his hand into the body of the defender. From there, he said, Waller puts the defender where he wants him and makes himself "friendly to the quarterback."

"That's what makes them special," Thomas said. "The defense knows what they're going to do and how to attack it, but he still does what he wants."

But Thomas said perhaps the biggest help will come from having McLaurin, Samuel and Brown.

"With the guys we have on the outside, maybe there's more space on the inside to make plays down the field," Thomas said. "If I can keep my speed up and make plays down the field, that would be great."

He also needs to remain a red zone threat -- Thomas was a consistent target there in practice and games in 2020, ranking second among tight ends with 15 catches inside the 20 -- and tops with 117 receiving yards. He was tied for fifth with five touchdowns. In minicamp this week, Thomas made a one-handed grab in the red zone.

"It's his mental part of it," Rivera said, "and just having the sense that he's really starting to take what we do offensively and his knowledge of the game and using it to help himself understand how to do things better. That's the other part of that I can anticipate on him improving."

Hoener said Thomas has improved the way he's getting out of his breaks and his understanding of running routes. He's a steady weapon for the quarterbacks.

"He was probably the most reliable offensive player and dependable player we had on the team last year," Hoener said.

At 6-foot-6, 250 pounds -- with 11-inch hands -- Thomas remains a big target.

"I've been really impressed with Logan," Fitzpatrick said. "His willingness to work and his understanding of the game is huge for us, to have a target that can see it through our eyes and really understands spacing and where we expect him to be in zone. ... He has a little of everything. He's definitely going to be a weapon for us this year."