By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 19, 2009
A week before opening the season, a couple of the Redskins' most important offensive cogs squared off against each other, teammates competing one-on-one at a local bowling alley.
Quarterback Jason Campbell wanted to protect his wrist, so he rolled straight. Tight end Chris Cooley might have shown more style, spinning the ball across the lane, but he usually left a pin standing.
"He was getting upset because I was striking," Campbell said of his friend and teammate. "He was nine . . . nine . . . nine. I told him, your bowling game looks fancy, but it's not getting you any points."
The relationship between Campbell and Cooley is an important one for the Redskins, more so on the field than off. After the two failed to hook up for a touchdown all last season, they buried any lingering concerns in Week 1, when Campbell hit Cooley with a 17-yard touchdown pass late in the game. It was the first score for either this season, but not the last, they say.
In fact, Cooley, who had seven catches for 68 yards against the Giants, could be primed for a big game in Sunday's home opener against the St. Louis Rams. In the Rams' 28-0 loss at Seattle last week, Seahawks tight end John Carlson turned in the best performance against a suspect St. Louis defense. Carlson finished the game with two touchdowns and 95 yards on six receptions.
The Rams tried attacking with a corner blitz, but the Seahawks wisely adjusted by hitting the tight end to the inside of the blitzing corner. Hampered by some blown coverages throughout the game, the Rams began to focus on the outside in the second half and gave Carlson room to roam across the middle. It's the exact type of environment in which Cooley could thrive on Sunday.
With Campbell in the pocket, Cooley is certain the offense is capable of much more than it showed in the opener at New York. Talent isn't the problem, he said; the key is execution and consistency.
"We have enough players on this team who are capable of making big plays," Cooley said. "Guys just need to do what they're supposed to do. They're put in the positions they need to be in to make plays. If everybody can just be consistent and do their job, we're capable.
"I think that's the biggest frustration for all of us, just getting together and saying, 'Look, we're good enough. Just do what you're supposed to do.' I know that's easy to say, but that's kind of the goal this week."
Facing a Rams squad that was blown out a week ago and is not expected to crack the league's tier of elite teams, finding the end zone as many times as possible could be important in establishing the Redskins' identity. Last year, the Redskins didn't post a win by more than eight points. They entered a 2008 meeting with the Rams at FedEx Field expecting to cruise to victory and instead lost, 19-17. The Redskins will try to show on Sunday they're no longer a team that plays to the level of its competition.
"Not to say the Rams are a bad football team, but it seems like we had to play close with everybody," Cooley said. "We just need to play hard and play at our level. We need to forget about anybody else's tempo. We need to forget about talking about the other team and just establish our own game and our own tempo."
While coaches hope to mix in more deep passes this year, establishing an early rhythm on offense often falls on running back Clinton Portis and quick passes from Campbell to Cooley.
Campbell made his NFL debut in November 2006 and his first touchdown was, not surprisingly, to Cooley. They hooked up again the following week for a 66-yard score, which still stands as Cooley's career long. From the beginning, each said, the two clicked, both on and off the field.
"I think we've developed into a pretty good tandem," Campbell said. "Last year he had like 80 catches. The year before he had . And the year when I came off the bench, he had a lot of catches. They always say a tight end is a quarterback's best friend when a lot of things are going on."
Said Cooley: "I think we're both just really down-to-earth guys, both easy to talk to, easy to hang out with. We really enjoy being around each other."
The pair spent last season's bye week at Disney World and will often gather at each other's house to play games or watch television. So it wasn't unusual that a day after the final preseason game, the two teammates and their significant others gathered at the bowling alley.
Campbell kept rolling strikes and spares, while his tight end, the victor in their previous meeting, became increasingly frustrated. The group bowled two games, and Campbell won both easily, earning him bragging rights these past two weeks.
"The sad thing is, my wife beat me both games, too," Cooley said.