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USAToday: Redskins' Cooley flourishes


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Redskins' Cooley flourishes

By Skip Wood, USA TODAY


ASHBURN, Va. — Rain had just begun during Washington Redskins tight end Chris Cooley's 100-yard walk from the practice fields to the locker room early Wednesday afternoon, but he and his companion — tight ends coach Rennie Simmons — appeared not to notice.

Slowly they trudged up the slight hill, Simmons doing most of the talking and Cooley doing most of the nodding.

It would have made for a telling photo.

Gibbs' guys, both. Past and present.

Simmons, who has known coach Joe Gibbs since their high school days in California, helped Gibbs win three Super Bowls and affirmatively answered the call when Gibbs returned last season following an 11-year hiatus.

Cooley was one of Gibbs' first, second-tour draft picks, taken by the Redskins out of Utah State in the third round with the 81st overall pick.

And Simmons has helped mold Cooley into the type of tight end — or, in Gibbs' offense, H-back — that remains a staple of Gibbs' offense.

He also is a big reason the Redskins are one win away from playing for the NFC championship, prefaced by Saturday's qualifier at favored Seattle.

Cooley never had experienced a postseason win before last weekend's decision at Tampa Bay. Not in high school and not in college.

"I've never, ever been on a team that's as successful as this one," Cooley says, "and that's why I just feel so lucky, why it's just so amazing. It's been unreal for me."

He impressed coaches immediately last season with his grasp of the position, and he started nine games while catching 37 passes for 314 yards and six touchdowns. This season, as the second-option target after Santana Moss, he has 71 catches for 774 yards and seven touchdowns.

Moss likes what he sees in Cooley.

"You've been seeing it for two years," Moss says. "I mean, he's only been in the league two years, but I'm pretty sure people see what he can do now. To me, he's already a complete tight end, and he can only keep getting better."

Cooley's breakout game, as it were, came last month at home in a must-win situation against the Dallas Cowboys. He caught six passes for 71 yards and three touchdowns in the 35-7 romp, and life hasn't been the same since.

Namely, he suddenly attracted a lot of newfound attention — from defenses.

"I've been seeing a ton more man coverage," Cooley says. "I would see it sometimes on passing downs early in the season, but now there are safeties who are right on top of you. You don't have much room to work."

In the past two games, Cooley has but four catches for 20 yards and no touchdowns. Simmons has been quick with advice, as he was Wednesday.

"I've learned a lot in the past several weeks about how to get open more," Cooley says with a chuckle. "I kind of feel like I know what to do now. I mean, I hadn't really seen that kind of coverage on me since I'd been in the NFL."

He has followed the NFL all his life, particularly the Denver Broncos.

"And when the Redskins beat them in the Super Bowl," Cooley says, referring to 1988. "I cried."

That's when, as a 5-year-old, he hated Gibbs' guys. Now he's one of them.

"And he really does make it such a family atmosphere," Cooley says. "He treats everyone the same, but it is neat that he drafted me."

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Seriously guys. I really think he's gonna have a huge game this week. I think the offense is going to have a break-out game. I'm not saying 400 yards of offense, but I got a feeling we will not only pound CP but also spread the field a lot with some passing.

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Cooley is a true Redskin and I think he is going to do well for us in the future...The thing he needs to work on this off-season is his quickness so he will be better equiped to beat man coverage next yr...

I would like to see Cooley slide to TE1 w/Manuel White at H-B as he is more atheletic w/good hands and Royal can slide to TE2. This would give us a good TE and H-b combo...

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Actually I'd rather see Cooley work more on holding the ball in the right hand and not fumbling quite so much. I'm not saying he's a fumbler but he's close to it.

I love what he brings to the table but this is probably the most important thing he can do in the offseason.

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