Chris Cooley’s charisma goes a long way to making him a Washington fan favorite. His talent earned him the respect of the Redskins franchise through numerous coaching administrations and the first season under the Shanahans has been no exception. Cooley proved a reliable player with a consistently good humor and strong work ethic; however, the team’s pervasive offensive struggles affected him. At age 28, Cooley was in peak physical condition after returning from an ankle injury that cut his 2009 season short. With a competent offense, he might have played the best season of his career.
Despite the team’s difficulties, Cooley managed a career second-best 77 receptions to tie a career high 849 receiving yards. Cooley averaged 53.1 yards per game, 4.8 catches per game, and 11 yards per catch. Among tight ends he ranks 2nd in the league in receptions and 3rd in total yards. Santana Moss was the only Redskin to catch more passes this season. Yes, Cooley had a productive season, but (there is always a but) he had relatively few touchdowns. He ranks 22nd in the league with 3 touchdown catches. Given that Cooley scored once in 2008 and twice in 2009, 3 touchdowns in 2010 might seem like an improvement. In 2007, however, Cooley caught 8 TD passes. He caught 6 in 2006, 7 in 2005, and 6 in 2004. The last three years represent a decline in scoring. Cooley played 2008 and 2009 under the dysfunctional leadership of head coach Jim Zorn and offensive coordinator Sherman Smith, but 2010 could have been different. With head coach Mike Shanahan and young-gun offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan at the helm, Cooley could, if not should, have made more scoring plays.
As the offensive coordinator in Houston, Kyle Shanahan frequently involved TE Owen Daniels in the offensive game plan. In the two years that Daniels played under Shanahan, he averaged 4.6 receptions per game and 57.5 yards per game. Daniels scored 2 touchdowns in 2008 and 5 touchdowns in 2009. Neither Cooley nor Daniels is a scoring machine, regardless of Kyle Shanahan’s eagerness to use them; however, they both proved productive receivers.
Though he thrived in many ways under Kyle Shanahan’s offense, Cooley could not help but notice his relatively few scoring plays and lopsided 2nd half production. He scored only 3 touchdowns on the season and, since the week 10 bye, he tallied 9 receptions in the first half of games versus 30 receptions in the second half. He was targeted only 4 times during Washington’s week 14 loss to Tampa Bay and finished with 2 catches for 22 yards, a season low. Cooley had not caught a pass until the final drive of the game. After the loss to the Buccaneers, he voiced his desire to be targeted earlier and more often. He also acknowledged being “surprised” that he had scored only 2 touchdowns on the season (his third would come in week 15 against Dallas) despite being among league leaders in receptions and total yards.
Chris Cooley soon got his wish in the Redskins week 16 game against the Jaguars. On the second drive, Rex Grossman threw a perfect pass to a wide open Cooley in the end zone. Another day the play would have resulted in a touchdown, but he inexplicably dropped the ball. The Redskins tried again, the second time connecting with backup tight end Fred Davis for the score. Though Cooley finished the game with 5 catches for 48 yards, he dropped other passes that he felt he should have caught.
He took to his radio show to address his performance, saying, “I was really disappointed with my performance in the first half. Obviously, I’m embarrassed by the first drop that I had in the end zone.” He continued, “I think the third or fourth time the ball hit my hands that I didn’t catch it, I mean, I about lost my mind. It blew my mind. That just never happened to me in my career. It’s like a bad hitting slump . . . But that’s the negative for me. It wasn’t that I wasn’t running good routes. I was running good routes, I was getting open, I was doing a lot of things right. I just had a couple of drops.”
Even with his couple of drops, Cooley managed an excellent season on the whole. That he scored relatively few touchdowns and recorded most of his stats in the second half of games may be curious, but did little to take away from his overall performance. Kyle Shanahan no doubt appreciates the talent Cooley possesses, which makes his presence on the roster in 2011 all but guaranteed.
The only threat to Cooley’s future with the Redskins comes from within the franchise. Fred Davis, the Redskins’ backup tight end, had an excellent 2009 season filling in for the injured Cooley and performed well when given the opportunity in 2010. Davis finished his first season under the Shanahans with 21 receptions for 316 yards with a 15 yard average and 3 touchdowns. His talent could create competition with Cooley for playing time in coming years if the club decides to retain two starting-level tight ends.