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Tight Ends a Reliable Option In Red Zone

The pass was supposed to go to Mike Sellers in the end zone. But Chris Cooley saw that Sellers was covered and Jason Campbell was running out of time to find an open receiver.

Cooley fought through defenders and found an opening. The quarterback rifled a pass to Cooley, who was standing one yard in the end zone, for a touchdown.

It was Campbell's first NFL touchdown pass.

For Cooley, though, touchdowns are becoming routine.

The 6-3, 265-pounder has caught a touchdown pass in four of the past five games. He has 13 touchdown receptions in his first two NFL seasons.

Throughout his career, Cooley has been particularly effective in the red zone. He is able to find openings in the middle of the field for his touchdown catches. That was the case on Sunday in the 20-17 loss to Tampa Bay.

"I was supposed to run the back corner of the end zone," Cooley said. "We went with jumbo personnel with three tight ends and they didn't switch. They just had a bunch of [defenders] back. I just tried to find a hole. I ended up coming back and giving Jason a chance."

Cooley also caught two passes on the Redskins' final touchdown drive of the game. He caught a 22-yarder on the first play of the drive, then pulled in a pass across the middle and rumbled 26 yards to the Bucs' 4-yard line.

Cooley's two catches--he finished with five for 58 yards--helped set up Campbell's 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Todd Yoder.

Asked about the success Redskins tight ends have had in the red zone this season, Campbell replied: "They just do a good job getting open down there. Teams tend to play more zone defense and double our receivers and that usually gives the tight end the opportunity to work the middle of the field."

Cooley was equally as impressed with Campbell's skills and calm demeanor.

"I think he was comfortable in the huddle," Cooley said. "He knows the guys. He has been around. He'll grow more and more confident getting the plays in and with the tempo of the game."

After a slow start to the 2006 season, Cooley has started to pick up his game. In his last five games, he has 17 catches for 232 yards, to go along with his four touchdowns.

For the season, Cooley has 32 receptions for 381 yards. Those numbers are down from last year, when he set career highs with 71 catches for 774 yards and seven touchdowns.

Those numbers are also down from what associate head coach-offense Al Saunders wants from pass-catching tight ends in his offense. Pro Bowler Tony Gonzalez thrived in Saunders' system in Kansas City, catching 102 passes for 1,258 yards in 2004.

Head coach Joe Gibbs has emphasized that Cooley is a player who needs to be integrated into the game plan.

"We always think that if we don't get him a bunch of balls in a game and get him involved in the game, then when we coming out of there we really second guess ourselves," Gibbs said. "He is a big part of what we do. He is a playmaker."

Cooley is always eager for more opportunities to be the playmaker, but for now he just wants more opportunities for the offense, period. That means converting more third downs; the Redskins were 4-of-13 in that category on Sunday against Tampa Bay.

"We need to try to find a way to stay on the field," he said. "We had 18 [offensive] plays in the first half, while [Tampa Bay] rushed for 100 yards in the first half. We're going to have to find a way to make more plays. I think we do a good job with the plays we have, we just don't have enough."

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