Numbers climb, doubters decline for 'Skins' Cooley

Ravens & Nfl

December 23, 2005|By EDWARD LEE | EDWARD LEE,SUN REPORTER

ASHBURN, Va. -- Depending on whom you talk to, Chris Cooley's 30-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the Washington Redskins' 28-point drubbing of the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday was either bewildering or brewing all along.

On the play that gave Cooley the first three-touchdown game of his career, he ran a 10-yard hook pattern along the left sideline. After quarterback Mark Brunell zipped the pass to him, Cooley pirouetted to his right to avoid Dallas cornerback Jacques Reeves, shrugged off an attempted arm tackle by cornerback Terence Newman and raced down the sideline and into the end zone with 12 seconds left in the first half.

Afterward, Cooley expressed surprise at the score. "Usually, when I catch it out in the flat like that, there's guys all over me," he said. "I'm usually not fast enough to turn it up the sidelines and get there. Guys usually get me around 20 yards."

His coach begged to differ.

"He's hard to get down," Joe Gibbs said. "He runs extremely well. Now, you wouldn't think that he'd be somebody hard to tackle, but he is. That play before halftime, that was designed to be kind of a short play and we're looking at a field goal. He took it and scored with it."

Cooley has been making a career out of defying skeptics who wondered whether a 6-foot-3, 265-pound tight end from Utah State could adjust to Gibbs' complicated H-back position.

In Gibbs' system, the H-back is a hybrid tight end-fullback-receiver-lineman who can pave the way for a running back, pull out of a three-point stance for a pass in the flat or line up in the slot as a receiver.

In just his second season as a pro, Cooley has demonstrated that not only can he fill that role, but he also can thrive in it.

As a rookie, he led the Redskins in touchdown catches with six and pulled in 37 passes for 314 yards. He developed such a rapport with quarterback Patrick Ramsey that Gibbs chastised himself at the end of last season for not getting the ball to his H-back more often.

Cooley began this season slowly, posting just nine catches for 115 yards in his first three games. But he caught eight passes for 82 yards and a touchdown against the Denver Broncos on Oct. 9, and with the season-ending knee injury to wide receiver David Patten and a pulled hamstring to wide receiver James Thrash, Cooley has become the most dependable receiver not named Santana Moss.

Moss, who earned his first Pro Bowl invitation on Wednesday, said everything he had heard about Cooley has been true.

"Before I came here, I heard he was something," Moss said. "Just being here and seeing him do his thing, I'm proud to see him be that guy. ... He comes up big when you probably least expect it."

Cooley is second on the team behind Moss in receptions (64) and receiving yards (725) and is tied for the team lead in receiving touchdowns with Moss and H-back Mike Sellers with six each.

His production -- along with a collaboration with tight end Brian Kozlowski -- has even yielded a nickname. Cooley unveiled "Captain Chaos" in the presence of several St. Louis Rams before the coin toss of their Dec. 4 game.

"They just looked at me like I was an idiot," said Cooley, who sported a mullet during training camp and has been known to play a little Wiffle ball in the team's locker room at Redskins Park. "That's about what everyone does. No one can explain anything. Everyone thinks I'm crazy."

For all of his quirks, Cooley has become a favorite among his teammates. "He can block, he can catch, he runs great routes," Brunell said. "Once he gets the ball in his hands, he's able to do something with it and breaks tackles. He's having a great year and hopefully that will continue."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

Giants@Redskins Tomorrow, 1 p.m., chs. 45, 5, 1430 AM, 106.7 FM Line: Redskins by 3

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