Rookie tight end Chris Cooley has steadily progressed through his first training camp and said he is growing more comfortable with his teammates and surroundings by the day. Cooley was the Washington Redskins' third-round pick from Utah State and is adjusting to life in Washington.
The 22-year-old seemed a little overwhelmed in his first NFL game on Aug. 9 but was a pass-catching presence in his second game, clicking with quarterback Mark Brunell twice. Cooley is among a deep pool of players at the tight end position and 10-year veteran Walter Rasby has been starting games at that spot. The youngster has good hands and is very athletic, but is learning his blocking assignments in Coach Joe Gibbs's offensive system.
"It felt amazing to catch a couple of balls," Cooley said. "It felt good; it felt like how it was supposed to feel. . . . I feel like I'm playing a pretty complete game right now. As far as run blocking, I could make a couple bigger blocks. I mean, I'm making my blocks, but if I could pancake a few guys, that would be a lot better."
The highlight of Cooley's pro career came on a 24-yard grab Saturday in a 23-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers. He lined up off the line of scrimmage on the right side and was not picked up by a cornerback or linebacker. He was still wide open when Brunell picked him out and rumbled to the Carolina 16-yard line, setting up John Hall's 23-yard field goal.
"I was amazed," Cooley said of the lack of coverage on that play. "I knew I was wide open and I'm running down the field going, 'The safety is going to come over the top and kill me the second the ball gets here.' And he never got there, so I was surprised. It worked out nice for me."
Cooley said he has no idea of how playing time will be divided in the regular season or precisely what he must do to climb the depth chart. His toughness has already attracted the attention of the coaching staff, as have his hands and his ability to run after the catch, Gibbs said.
"What I've been impressed with is he's lined up every play he's been here," Gibbs said. "This weekend you're kind of standing on the sidelines and he's got a fat lip spitting blood from a special teams play and I said, 'Hey, you ready to go?' And he goes, 'Yeah.' So I think over a period of time what happens with a player is little by little you kind of get a feeling for all the guys out here. . . . Tough, hard days, can they push themselves through it? Are they going to line up every down? Each guy has a lot about his character and stuff and what kind of a person he is, and I think that starts to develop over a point in time."
Under the Sun
Several players commented that yesterday's morning session was the most intense practice of the preseason, resulting in numerous injuries. Players were visibly fatigued coming off the field after spending about two hours in the sun in contract drills. The run blocking drills were especially heated, according to players. These sessions are closed to the media and the public.
Gibbs went with a lighter, pass-oriented practice in the afternoon.