As the Washington Redskins packed up in the locker room Friday afternoon following their final practice of the week leading up to Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh, tight end Chris Cooley practically glowed.
He had just gone through his first three days of practice since being released by the Redskins eight weeks ago. And on Sunday, Cooley will play in his first official NFL game since Oct. 16, 2011, when his eighth professional season was ended by knee and finger injuries.
Cooley played in three preseason games this year, but lined up primarily at fullback and recorded just one catch for four yards and a carry for four yards. The Redskins opted to go with the more explosive Fred Davis and young backups Logan Paulsen and Niles Paul, and released Cooley so he could have a chance to catch on with a team that offered him a major role.
But Cooley elected not to uproot his life, and instead waited in case the Redskins ever called him back. When Davis tore his left Achilles’ tendon last Sunday, coach Mike Shanahan called Cooley only a couple of hours after the 27-24 loss to the New York Giants, and Cooley re-signed with the team that drafted him in the third round of the 2004 draft.
Cooley had continued to train, so he would be ready to play if the call ever came. But he admitted working on his own didn’t rival full-on NFL practices. But, Cooley wasn’t complaining.
“I am so tired, but I have so much adrenalin going that I don’t want to stop going,” said Cooley, Washington’s franchise leader for receptions by a tight end (428 for 4,703 yards and 33 touchdowns). “It’s been an exciting week for me, and I’m sure it’ll be an exciting rest of the year. I’m in such a fortunate situation.”
Paulsen, who recorded four catches for 76 yards last week, will start for the Redskins at Pittsburgh. But Cooley figures to see playing time. How much will be dictated to how well Cooley holds up on the field. But the Redskins likely will ease him into duty.
“You don’t want to throw him into the briar patch too quick,” Shanahan said, “because you know it takes a while to get those legs going for the guys that take off five, six, seven weeks and be able to jump in a game. So you have to be a little bit careful. I think we have a good feel for where Chris is at.”
Cooley, meanwhile, said he is happy with whatever workload he receives.
“I’ll be honest, I really don’t know what to expect, or where to go. It all depends on how the game turns, or what happens,” he said. “I’ll be ready to play all of it, or to sit and cheer Logan on the whole time. At this point, whatever happens, it’s all good.”
Cooley does know one thing, however: His emotions will run high Sunday morning, and he will do everything he can to get the pregame hours to tick by as quickly as possible.
“I’m sure I’ll be at the stadium first bus, as soon as I can be there,” Cooley grinned. “I woke up Monday and thought, ‘Oh, my gosh. I’m going to play a game in six days.’ It’s a crazy rush. I can’t wait to be in that stadium atmosphere and to be out there to compete.”