Redskins' Cooley takes stock of an uncertain future

By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 2, 2009

With his season finished because of a broken bone in his ankle, Chris Cooley won't set foot on a football field any time soon. But when he does, even Cooley isn't quite certain what he'll be returning to.

"I don't know. It feels almost like a transition year," Cooley said Tuesday, one day after the Washington Redskins placed him on the season-ending injured reserve list. "Obviously there's going to be change at the end of the year, but as far as guessing what that change will be, I have no idea."

Cooley said the uncertainty surrounding the team's future feels "weird," but he is comforted to know that he's not risking further injury by returning too quickly.

Cooley and Coach Jim Zorn have been talking regularly since Cooley broke a bone in his ankle Oct. 26. Holding out hope that the broken tibia in his right ankle would heal sooner than initial estimates, Cooley and Zorn agreed the team's Dec. 13 game at Oakland would be a targeted return date.

"I talked to Jim last week, and he said, 'Listen, if we win [at Philadelphia] and there's any thought of a playoff push, if we win a couple of games, we'll keep you on that thought,' " Cooley said. "So then I went in yesterday, he said, 'You know, we said that if he we won, we'd keep pushing it, but if we lose, IR.' And that's probably best for me."

Wearing a protective boot at a promotional appearance at a Washington FedEx store Tuesday, Cooley said a crack was still visible in X-rays last week, and he hoped not rushing his return would allow him to fully heal.

When Cooley suffered the break on "Monday Night Football" against the Eagles, he was initially told recovery would last eight to 10 weeks. After surgery, doctors were more optimistic, and Cooley hoped he could return after just a month. But he learned last Monday that he must wear the boot until at least next week.

"That's my big thing now, if the bone's healed, I've still been on crutches for over five weeks. It's hard to just step on an NFL field with guys who've been playing all season," Cooley said. "I've done upper-body stuff, but not leg stuff. I guess my left leg is strong. But getting back in shape -- back in football shape -- is not easy. I don't know if I'd be confident with a week of running and a couple of days of practice."

In a separate interview Tuesday with "The SIRIUS Blitz," Cooley offered insight into the Redskins' complicated play-calling system. Zorn called the offensive plays until he was stripped of those duties following the Oct. 18 loss to Kansas City. Since then, the Redskins have used what Cooley described as a "carousel" of play-callers.

"We have a really weird deal going on right now with the kind of rotation of who calls the plays, to where it goes, to who gets it and how it gets to Jason," said Cooley said in the radio interview. "It's almost unheard of. And the funny thing is the last couple weeks the offense has looked better than it has."

The team's primary play-caller, consultant Sherm Lewis, has not been made available to reporters, and Zorn's explanation of the setup has been inconsistent at times. Zorn has said Lewis calls the passing plays, offensive coordinator Sherman Smith calls the running plays, and Zorn himself calls the plays during the two-minute offense. Cooley explained a bit further:

"All the coaches design the plays. They all have different responsibilities," he said. "Some coaches have third down, some coaches have the passing game, some have the red [zone], and then they all get together. So then what happens is Sherman Lewis, who is our offensive consultant [and play-caller], will install the regular game plan and then we go practice that. And then on Thursday, Jim Zorn will install the third down and then he'll also install the run game."

In an interview with the Post, Cooley complimented Zorn for how he's juggled the situation.

"Jim's handled it extremely well. He's just done a phenomenal job," said the injured tight end. "He still has guys playing hard, still has guys working hard."

Cooley said he'd likely attend the Redskins three remaining home games. As for the two trips, he's not as certain. He didn't attend the games at Dallas or Philadelphia.

"I'm not a real vocal guy," Cooley said. "Throughout my career, any type of leadership role has been by example and by the way I've played. So I'm just a body on the sidelines basically. I'll give high-fives, you know. They all work all week and when you're in it -- when you're in the game -- you have such an agenda. You're so driven that another guy on the sidelines isn't a big deal. Let's say Todd Yoder is the one who got hurt. I don't care if he's the one on the sidelines giving me a high five. When you're playing, you're so focused on what you're doing."

Appearing in only seven games, Cooley finished the season with 332 yards and two touchdowns on 29 catches. In his place, second-year Fred Davis is averaging 44 yards per game in the past five games and scored his second touchdown of the year in Sunday's loss.

"I think Fred's really stepped in and played well," Cooley said. "This is a great opportunity for him. I know Fred's looked back on every single game and said there's 10 things he could do differently. But this is essentially his first year. I know in my first couple of years, I learned a lot. And there's no better way to learn than actually playing in the games."

While Cooley will be as curious as anyone to see what changes the team makes after the season, he says, "the thing is for me, at least I know I'll be returning healthy. At least I know I'm not going to play, come back too soon, break my ankle in December and have to sit around until March trying to heal."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company