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Posted at 02:34 PM ET, 09/09/2011

Chris Cooley: Redskins more focused now than ever

Washington Redskins tight end Chris Cooley remains hopeful that he can play Sunday when his team plays host to the New York Giants, and the two-time Pro Bowl selection says he and his teammates are more confident and better prepared in Mike Shanahan’s second season than at any other point of his eight-year career with the Redskins.

Cooley remains one of Washington’s top offensive players as well as a fan favorite. He was drafted in 2004, played under Joe Gibbs for three seasons, endured the tumultuous Jim Zorn era and now is playing under Shanahan. Cooley said the team’s focus is as strong as it has ever been. Other Redskins players have said things “feel different” this year, but Cooley, who has experienced as much change as any of those players, offered the best insight of any of his teammates Friday.

“Even back to Joe, I remember the Redskins’ Welcome Home luncheon I was at, Joe got up towards the end and said ‘Hey, I don’t know what’s going to happen this week. No one knows. We’re going to go see what happens,’” Cooley recalled. “And since then I’ve kind of always felt like, ‘Well, it’s the first game. Let’s go see what’s going to happen.’ I fully expect to win, and I fully expect this team to play well. We’re not going to go see what happens this week. Guys expect to win. As a group, we spent the time, and I’ve never seen a more confident group of guys or a group of guys that play as well together as well as we have this offseason.”

Cooley, who last season recorded a career-high 77 catches for 849 yards and three touchdowns, attributed that improved confidence and focus to the tone set by Shanahan and his staff.

“It’s the preparation; it’s so business-like,” Cooley declared. “The staff is extremely demanding on its players on knowing their responsibilities and knowing their assignments and eliminating all mental errors, playing fast. If you’re able to be part of our practice for a whole practice now, it’s so much faster. We’re getting in and out of the huddle, and it’s been impressive for me to watch, and I really have watched from a coach’s standpoint. It’s been much better than I’ve ever known.”

Cooley also believes that the team’s leadership and unity has improved this season, but he attributes that largely to the NFL lockout, which forced players to rally together and take ownership of the offseason practice programs.

“I would say it helped us establish unity as a team,” said Cooley, who along with London Fletcher, Lorenzo Alexander, Kedric Golston and John Beck helped organize the three player-led ‘minicamps’ this summer. “One big thing I would say is it helped us establish individual leadership. A lot of guys had to take responsibility for leading this team. We had to come together and be together as a team. Did the nine days we were together make us better football players? Probably not. But it didn’t hurt us either to go out there and spend time running around, hear the plays. Nobody’s ever made that big a deal out of OTAs, but at the same time, it was definitely healthy.”

The Redskins will see how much that improved focus, confidence and internal leadership helps them when they face the visiting Giants at 4:15 p.m. Sunday.

Cooley, after missing all of the preseason with a balky left knee, returned to practice this week but in a limited capacity. Shanahan listed him as “questionable,” but Cooley said he continues to improve each day, and doesn’t expect to be rusty when he takes the field.

Once he is completely healthy, Cooley expects to perform at a higher level this season thanks largely to the fact that he lost 20 pounds over the offseason. As a result, the tight end feels quicker, and believes that his endurance has improved.

“I weigh 20 pounds less than I’ve ever weighed. I’m 234 pounds today,” Cooley said. “Coach Shanahan said Shannon Sharpe played at about 234, 235, so he was pretty good. I definitely feel different.

“I’ve always wanted to do this,” Cooley added regarding his weight loss. “I finally made a commitment to eating totally healthy, to working out as hard as I could. Not being able to practice during camp probably made losing weight a lot easier because I could spend time in the gym and not have to worry about spending energy for practice. It was a good month for me to really focus. The thought process for me was, as long as I could maintain the level of strength that I’ve always had, then I should be fine. I would look at myself and say, ‘I’m probably carrying extra weight.’ The responsibilities of this run-blocking scheme are a little bit different because of the quickness. It’s more about getting your hands on guys and being able to stay with guys. I think I’ll be completely fine in the run game. But yeah, I’ll feel better.”

By  |  02:34 PM ET, 09/09/2011

 
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