When the Washington Redskins lost their highly productive tight end, Fred Davis, to a season-ending Achilles’ tendon tear last month, then promptly re-signed popular veteran Chris Cooley, some observers figured the team might simply plug Cooley into Davis’s spot in the lineup and try to keep the offense moving.
It hasn’t come close to working out that way. Cooley has been given few chances to contribute to the offense since returning, and he remains without a catch in the four games since the Redskins brought him back. But the team has continued to get some production at the position from Logan Paulsen and Niles Paul; each has contributed a touchdown catch during the Redskins’ current two-game winning streak.
“I think the group we have has done almost everything that has been asked of them,” Cooley said Monday at Redskins Park. “There’s been a lot of big plays made when the opportunities to make plays is there. And as far as having the offense operate, especially the last two weeks, I think we’ve done an outstanding job.”
Paul caught a 29-yard touchdown pass in the Redskins’ victory Thursday at Dallas, after Paulsen had a 17-yard touchdown catch during a victory over the Philadelphia Eagles four days earlier at FedEx Field.
“I think we’ve gone out and we’ve done everything we can to fill the shoes of a great player,” Paulsen said Monday, after the team returned to practice. “It’s unfortunate Fred is not here. . . But definitely we’re trying our hardest, and I think we’re putting a good effort out there.”
Davis suffered his injury while running a pass pattern in the end zone at MetLife Stadium during the Redskins’ 27-23 loss to the New York Giants on Oct. 21. He had 24 catches for 325 yards in his seven games this season, after the Redskins used their franchise player tag on him in the offseason.
There was widespread fretting, at the time and in the weeks that followed, that rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III didn’t have enough playmakers around him in the Redskins’ passing game, with Davis done for the season and wide receiver Pierre Garcon hampered by a torn ligament in the second toe of his right foot. But Paulsen said he was confident that the Redskins’ tight ends could take up at least some of the slack.
“I didn’t know if we were going to be catching five, six balls a game like he was,” Paulsen said. “But I knew Niles and I, and Chris now, could come in and do our best and kind of cover for him when he was gone. And I think that’s what we’ve done.”
Paulsen had been known as a blocker. But Coach Mike Shanahan immediately named him Davis’s replacement. A third-year pro signed by the Redskins in 2010 as an undrafted rookie, Paulsen has a career-best 17 catches this season, 16 of them in the five-game stretch that began when Davis was hurt.
“I get paid for that moment where I need to be the starter and they need to have faith in me that I can come in and do it,” Paulsen said. “So I basically prepared every week like I was the starter when Fred was starting, just in case that opportunity came. And unfortunately it did. So I felt really comfortable stepping into that situation.”
Paul has seven catches in his first full NFL season as a tight end. He is a converted wide receiver who had two catches in 13 games as a rookie last season.
“I didn’t come into the season thinking I was going to play a true tight end position. I thought they’d put me in on certain packages,” Paul said Monday. “At the beginning of the year, I was lining up at wide receiver. I was lined up at fullback. But now with Fred being out, I had to step up and play more of that tight end role. I feel I’m growing more confident as the days go on and the games go on.”
Cooley is the franchise’s career leader in catches by a tight end. He was released by the team before the season but called by the Redskins within hours of Davis’s injury. He has been a non-factor on the offense since his return. But Cooley said Monday he isn’t particularly surprised or upset about his lack of opportunities.
“I’m not surprised,” Cooley said. “I didn’t know what to expect. I would have hoped for more at this point. But it’s fun to be a part of this team. It’s fun to be a part of the two wins in a row. We’ll see if we can get hot and make the playoffs.”
Cooley said he’s not certain if he’ll have a more significant role in the offense during the remainder of the season. “I can’t say more than what I’ve done is going to happen,” he said. “I’m prepared. And that’s, I think, all I can think of.”
Cooley participated in only three offensive plays during the Redskins’ win in Dallas. He would have re-signed with the team even if he’d known his role would be this small.
“I’m excited to be here,” Cooley said. “I’m excited to have a chance to play if that chance comes.”
Monday, Dec. 3, 8:30 p.m.