The Mark Brunell-to-Santana Moss combination has certainly been among the top stories in the early going of the Redskins' 2005 season. Meantime, H-back Chris Cooley has quietly emerged as one of the offense's key performers, especially in the intermediate passing game.
Cooley has scored touchdowns in each of the last two games and he posted career high numbers in Week 5 against Denver: eight catches for 82 yards.
To trace Cooley's development, look back to the latter part of the 2004 season. In the Redskins' last six games, Cooley caught 24 passes for 196 yards and three touchdowns. It was evident to coaches that he had begun to get comfortable with his role in the Redskins' offense. Head coach Joe Gibbs said after the season that he needed to get more passes thrown to Cooley.
This year, Cooley has picked up right where he left off last season. He is second on the team--behind Moss--in receptions (23) and receiving yards (251). And he is on pace to post career highs in both categories in just his second year.
Said Cooley: "The big thing for me coming into this season is my comfort level with these coaches and this team. I really felt like I fit in. I knew what I was expected to do and what they wanted out of me. I'm happy with how far I've come, but I always feel like there's a lot more I can do."
Brunell frequently jokes with Cooley, calling him a "knucklehead," but he has been impressed with Cooley's emergence this season.
"He has a bright future," Brunell said. "He works real hard and he wants to be a good football player. He has the ability to do just about everything--he can block, run routes and catch. He's smart, so he's not limited to just do one or two things. His versatility is key."
Cooley said the offense's confidence level is sky-high right now. The offense is currently ranked sixth in the NFL and the passing game is ranked eighth. That's a huge jump from last year's 30th-ranked offense and 29th-ranked passing game.
"It's great when you get the ball on the 20-yard line and you have 80 yards to go," Cooley said. "You get in the huddle and say, 'Let's go get it.' We're confident we can go downfield and we're doing it most of the time."
While Moss has emerged as a big-play receiver, Cooley has excelled in the intermediate passing game. Last Sunday against the Chiefs, he caught passes of 17 and 13 yards. In the Broncos game, he caught passes of 10, 11 and 23 yards.
Cooley believes the big plays posted by Moss have helped open up the entire Redskins offense.
"We've had a lot of big plays down the field this year, which is huge for us," Cooley said. "Last year, we couldn't get any plays over 15 or 20 yards. When we get those big plays, it should open up a lot of things. Our running game opens up and defenses will have to back off us a little bit. Hopefully, we'll continue in that direction."
Cooley was a bit surprised to learn that, in the Pro Bowl fan balloting released this week on NFL.com, he was listed as a fullback. In Gibbs' offense, the H-back position is something of a hybrid of the tight end and fullback positions.
Cooley's chances of earning a Pro Bowl nod may be increased by being listed at fullback. Some of the league's top tight ends are in the NFC, including Atlanta's Alge Crumpler, Dallas's Jason Witten and New York's Jeremy Shockey.
But Cooley would prefer to be listed among the tight ends
"I consider myself a tight end mostly," he said. "I line up on the ball a lot of times. 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? I haven't really considered anything like going to the Pro Bowl. That's not my focus."