Cooley starts to find the end zone for Redskins

Updated: November 10, 2006, 3:26 AM ET
Associated Press

ASHBURN, Va. -- Other than the 22 points they've scored in three straight games -- a feat unprecedented in NFL history -- the Washington Redskins have started to show another sign of consistency on offense: Chris Cooley is catching touchdown passes.

Cooley got into the end zone against Tennessee, Indianapolis and Dallas, the first time in his career that he's scored in three consecutive games. The third-year tight end is getting closer to making the type of impact expected when the Redskins overhauled the offense and moved him from H-back.

"If we don't get him involved on the game, we really second-guess ourselves," coach Joe Gibbs said. "Because he's a big part of what we do."

Cooley isn't exactly tearing up the league. He has 24 receptions for 284 yards at midseason, well behind the pace that had him catching 71 passes for 774 yards a year ago. Over the last three games he has actually caught fewer passes (9) than in the previous three (12). But new assistant coach Al Saunders -- as he is with all of the offensive personnel -- is getting more of a sense of how best to use a player many people had pegged for a Pro Bowl-type year.

"Of all the guys on offense, he's probably the most improved player in terms of what he has brought into what we're trying to do -- and that's route-running," said Saunders, who calls the plays. "Last year, a lot of his success and a lot of his catches were balls that were behind the line of scrimmage or very close to the line, and what we've tried to do is expand his role in the passing game and allow him to be a vertical receiver, and he's responded extremely well."

"His ability and value is underestimated around the league," Saunders said. "As he grows in this offense, he'll get the recognition he so rightly deserves."

Cooley was excited about his new role in training camp. He envisioned making big downfield catches when defensive backs were keying on receivers Santana Moss, Brandon Lloyd and Antwaan Randle El.

However, the offense has sputtered -- the passing offense is ranked 21st in the league -- and the downfield game has been nonexistent at times. Moss has carried a disproportionate share of the load, and a backup running back -- Ladell Betts -- is second on the team in receptions.

Cooley, though, thinks the offense is on the verge of finding its rhythm.

"We were close to having a huge game against Dallas," Cooley said. "We missed a couple of opportunities. We were very close on huge plays. I think we're coming along. I do feel like I'm becoming a little bit more involved. I dropped a ball. I had another one batted. I was close to having five catches for 100 yards."

Cooley's strength remains his toughness. He excels in breaking tackles and piling up yards after a catch. He also bruised his shoulder early against the Cowboys but stayed in the game.

"I think I just naturally have a high pain tolerance," said Cooley, whose sore shoulder has him listed as probable on the injury report. "Stuff doesn't bother me as much as maybe it would other people. I just try to put it out of my mind every time I'm out there. It's the only thing I can do. I'm not coming off the field."

Cooley made a juggling game-tying 18-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter of the 22-19 win over the Cowboys. Moss missed that game with a hamstring injury and his status is uncertain for Sunday's game at Philadelphia, giving Cooley another good chance of having his first big game of the season -- at least by his standards.

"I had four catches and three catches in the last couple of games, so it's not a big game for me," Cooley said. "We'll see what happens."


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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