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Tight ends Chris Cooley, Fred Davis give Redskins more options on offense

By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 10, 2010; 7:55 PM

When Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan calls "Tiger," pass-catching tight ends Chris Cooley and Fred Davis line up as wide receivers on opposite sides of the formation. They also could stand together or take backfield positions as part of many formations in the personnel group.

The constant, however, is that Cooley and Davis are on the field simultaneously, a scheme the Redskins hope to use often this season. The team envisions big things from the athletic pair, who figure to be busy, given that many of Washington's wide receivers are either unproven, coming off injuries or past their primes.

"I think it'll be pretty easy" to use them at the same time, Shanahan said after practice Tuesday at Redskins Park. "When you have two guys who can do everything, you don't have to try too hard to incorporate 'em in. You just call plays, and you move 'em around wherever the weakness is in the defense. Our quarterback can go anywhere as long as we've got guys there who can win [individual battles] and separate.

"You've got two guys who can move around and they've got the brains to understand [the offense]. You can get into different packages to where they're playing tight end one position, receiver the next and fullback the next. It's just wherever you line 'em up. And if you can do that, and have all the same looks but make all the players interchangeable, it really limits what a defense can do."

"Tiger" is not the only personnel group in which Cooley and Davis have interchangeable roles. They also have responsibilities in goal-line packages as well as some other specialty areas, Redskins coaches say. But their play-making ability is most intriguing to the coaching staff.

"I'm very comfortable with them," said tight ends coach Jon Embree, who served in the same capacity with the Kansas City Chiefs from 2006 to 2008. "Usually when you have two tight ends, one is deficient in an area like the run game or the pass game. But with both of these guys, they've done such a really good job in the run game, and they're definitely passing threats."

In devising game plans, defensive coordinators attempt to categorize offensive players in terms of their ability in the running and passing games. They then set "strengths" accordingly, determining how to attack weaknesses and which blitz packages to use.

Cooley and Davis, though, are such solid blockers and skilled receivers that "people are going to have an issue as far as deciding who to call the strength to," Embree said. "It's going to be hard for them to decide who to set the coverage to because they have the ability to do both at a high level."

Before the 2008 season, then-Redskins coach Jim Zorn said he planned to include a two-tight set as part of the base package for Cooley and Davis. Zorn quickly scrapped those plans because Davis got off to a slow start in his rookie season and struggled to learn the playbook.

Zorn revisited the concept at the outset of last season but again called it off, people familiar with the situation say, because Davis did not develop as much as hoped. Then Cooley, 28, suffered a fractured ankle in Week 7 and missed the remainder of the season. After the two-time Pro Bowler was injured, Davis, 24, surprised many in the organization during the bye week, working hard in preparation to become the starter.

Playing in place of Cooley, Davis had 41 receptions for 464 yards (an 11.3-yard average) and six touchdowns. As Cooley's backup, Davis, who has a base salary of $470,000 this season, had just seven catches for 45 yards and no touchdowns.

Cooley, who has a base of $2.325 million, is fully recovered and listed atop the depth chart for the preseason opener Friday against the Buffalo Bills at FedEx Field. The seven-year veteran said he eagerly awaits his first game in this version of the West Coast offense, which is "more demanding mentally for all the players" than the spread scheme the Redskins ran the past two seasons under Zorn. "It gives you a more versatile look," he said. "You don't show the same formations every time to the defense. You're doing different things. It should be good for anyone making plays."

Davis and Cooley appear to get along well, and Davis accepts that Cooley was firmly entrenched as the starter before he was injured. But the competitive Davis is pushing for an expanded role beyond his on-field work with Cooley in "Tiger."

"They're trying to get a lot of looks out there," Davis said, "but so far it's been looking like we're both going to be on the field, and there definitely can be a lot of opportunities for everybody in this offense. I'll have to adjust to whatever they want me to do, but you'll see the best out of me when I'm really on the field a lot."

Davis's attention wanes when he is not actively involved in the game plan, which was among the reasons for the long, unproductive stretch to begin his career.

"There are times in practice where I'll say [to the Shanahans], 'Guys, you know, he's been out X amount of plays. I better get him in there so he can just stay in the flow," Embree said. "But Fred loves football. He's passionate about it. He practices it hard. He likes to practice. I haven't heard him once complain about practice.

"The only time he complains is when he wants more plays, wants more passes.. . .But if he just keeps having the camp he's having, I know Kyle has plans for both of these guys."

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