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RTN: 'Knucklehead' Cooley keeps it light


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'Knucklehead' Cooley keeps it light


The Redskins' H-back has improved drastically in his second season and keeps his team laughing.

Back in the days of Howdy Doody and the Cleavers, it was the nickname you to avoided at all costs.


Chris Cooley wasn't even around then, but he's aware it's not used to describe the sharpest knife in the drawer. Nonetheless, the Washington Redskins' second-year offensive jack of all trades loves it.

"It's my status," he jokes.

And, in truth, he earned it by his actions. Early on game days, Cooley takes the field for a round of punt, pass and kick.

Not too long ago, he brought Wiffle Ball equipment to Redskins Park, perhaps seeking his own version of postseason drama.

There was the day last summer he showed up at training camp sporting a mullet, not that many people saw it. Coming off the field, he was too embarrassed to honor requests by cameramen to remove his helmet.

"I try to make fun out of my job," Cooley said. "I always have. We mess around a ton. I'm just as focused. I'm working just as hard, but I'm also having fun."

Keeping it light probably isn't a bad idea for someone with a heavy workload like Cooley, a third-round pick in 2004. He is a tight end. He is an H-back. In certain formations he is a wide receiver. In others, he lines up at fullback.

The NFL obviously doesn't know how to categorize him. On the Pro Bowl ballot they released last week, they listed Cooley at fullback, where he spends only a fraction of his time.

"I consider myself mostly a tight end," he said. "I'm more of a receiver than I am a fullback because I'm in the slot more than in the backfield.

So who knows?"

Through five games this season, no matter where Cooley has lined up, he's been more knuckle-sandwich than knucklehead for opponents.

Cooley's 23 receptions are second only to Santana Moss. He has a more than respectable 10.9-yard average per catch and a pair of touchdowns that leave him on pace to at least match last season's team-leading total of six.

"He can do a lot, very versatile," Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said. "One thing I remember about Chris when we talked to him before the draft. He told us, 'I think I'm a good runner after I get the ball.' And he is.

He's hard to bring down.

"He's got great body control. He's a great receiver, and we've tried to do a better job of using him."

As a threat, Cooley has been on a roll since the second half of last season. Not totally sure of himself early on, Cooley had just 11 catches after nine games.

But as his confidence grew, so did his production, as his 26 receptions in the final seven games prove.

"The big thing for me is my comfort level with these coaches and this team," he said. "I really feel like I fit in."

One of the reasons the Redskins chose not to keep a "big" receiver like Darnerien McCants or Kevin Dyson was their suspicion that the 6-foot-3 Cooley could occasionally handle that role.

They were even more convinced when he showed up at training camp 15 pounds lighter than last season, allowing him to get into the secondary quicker.

"If they line you up wide and you get a small corner, you can use your size to your advantage," he said. "Denver covered me with a corner every time. That's a good matchup.

"It's fun. It's cool to be out there and catch the ball. But it doesn't make that much difference to me, to tell you the truth."

What does make a difference to Cooley is his blocking. A sore spot at times last season during his adjustment to pro ball, Cooley entered the season pleased with his perceived improvement.

Cooley is not one to compare himself to elite tight ends like Kansas City's Tony Gonzalez or Dallas' Jason Witten. He likes Baltimore's Todd Heap and the Redskins have adapted some of the Ravens' plays for Cooley, with more adaptation likely to come as Cooley grows in experience and skill.

"He has the ability to do just about anything _ block, run routes and catch," said quarterback Mark Brunell. "He's smart, not just limited to one or two things. He has a bright future and even though he's still a bit of a knucklehead, we love him anyway."

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