In just two seasons, Chris Cooley has emerged as a reliable offensive weapon for the Redskins, recording 108 catches for 1,088 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Given his production, it would seem odd that Redskins coaches would want Cooley to undergo a position change this offseason. But in 2006, Cooley will play a more traditional tight end role, as opposed to the H-back position he played last year.
To hear Cooley tell it, the position change is not really a change at all.
He says the only significant change is one letter: Cooley is now a "Y" in offensive sets instead of an "H." The "Y" is often used as a standard description for tight ends in play formations.
"I think a big misconception last year was that everyone thought I wasn't a tight end, but that's basically what I was," he said. "The 'H' is just what it was termed."
Last year, Cooley was surprised--perhaps even a little annoyed--when he learned he was listed as a fullback on Pro Bowl ballots. He had comparable statistics to some elite tight ends last season, including Pro Bowlers Alge Crumpler of Atlanta and Jeremy Shockey of the New York Giants. He lost the fullback voting to Seattle's Mack Strong.
This season, there will be no confusion over Cooley's position.
Associate head coach-offense Al Saunders is expected to use Cooley in a similar role as Kansas City Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez, a seven-time Pro Bowler. Saunders guided the Chiefs' high-powered offense the last five seasons.
Cooley was a traditional tight end at Utah State before arriving in Washington in spring 2004 as a third-round draft pick and fresh-faced rookie. He is confident he has the experience to adapt to Saunders' offense.
As Organized Team Activities (OTAs) get underway at Redskins Park this week, Cooley said he is excited about the possibility of having the kind of success that Gonzalez has had in Kansas City.
"I'm mostly excited about what's going to happen for our offense," he said. "There should be a lot of opportunities to make plays. It'll be the type of offense that gets huge chunks of yardage down the field, even more than we have in the past."
In prior years, Cooley has run a lot of short to medium pass routes which allowed him to use his physicality to break tackles once he catches the ball.
Remember Week 15 against Dallas? Cooley caught a pass in the left flat and barreled downfield, breaking several tackles along the sideline for a 30-yard touchdown. It was one of three touchdown receptions by Cooley that game.
Short and medium routes will certainly remain a part of the Redskins' offense in 2006. But in Saunders' offense, it's expected that Cooley will be asked to run some deeper routes. He'll need to use his size and speed to break free from coverage by linebackers and safeties.
"I'll have a chance to run a little more and stretch out the field on some routes," he said. "I'll have a lot of help with the [wide receivers] on the outside and the speed they have. We'll have more [receiver options] out on the field than we did last year.
"A big focus is to get the ball in the hands of guys who can make plays--and we have a lot of guys who can do that."
Cooley will also have to adjust to more shifts and motions at the line of scrimmage. Movement by wide receivers, running backs and tight ends has been a staple of Saunders's offenses for years.
"We're moving a lot," Cooley said. "We have a lot of different things that we're doing--but it's not dramatically different from the offense we ran last year."