Seeing Fred Davis contort his body in midair to catch the football and dart past defenders Sunday was nothing new for those who have watched the Washington Redskins the past two seasons. As a fellow tight end, Chris Cooley knows Davis‘ freakish athleticism as well as anyone. It has become a staple on the Redskins‘ practice field, and Davis transferred it to the game to help Washington earn a season-opening victory.
“That,” Cooley said, “was amazing for our offense.”
With Cooley coming off a knee injury that sidelined him for the preseason, Davis played 58 of 64 snaps against the New York Giants. And even after Cooley, a two-time Pro Bowler, returns to full health, it could be difficult to cut into Davis‘ playing time if he maintains that level of production in the passing game.
“Being in his second year, he’s a lot more comfortable with the system,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “Sometimes it doesn’t happen right away, but I think by him losing some weight and having an excellent offseason program, he’s been giving himself the ability to have a heck of a year.”
Sunday’s game was an auspicious start, at least.
The Redskins mixed up Davis‘ alignment, positioning him on the line, in the backfield, split wide and in motion. His big day began with a 23-yard catch down the seam on a throw that was high and behind him. He turned, jumped and reached back, finishing horizontal while making a highlight-reel grab. He later caught a 28-yarder down the middle despite being sandwiched by two defensive backs.
“I don’t remember catching any seams in the other offense [that the Redskins ran before Shanahan arrived],” said Davis, who dropped 15 pounds to get to 242 in the offseason. “I think we used to run a lot of stick routes, short routes, and you had to get as many yards as you could after the catch. This year, in this offense it’s a lot more deep threats for the tight ends to make a lot of plays. I like that.”
He has been entrenched as the Redskins‘ tight end since 2004, so it would be natural for him to feel uncomfortable watching someone else siphon the passes thrown to the tight end. Add the fact that Davis is in the final year of his contract, and there’s a lot at stake for the Redskins‘ tight end position. But Cooley considers himself one of Davis‘ biggest supporters.
“I’ve heard so much talk about, ‘Who’s the tight end in this offense?’ and, ‘One of these guys is going to start,’ ” Cooley said. “To have guys that can make plays on offense is what makes you a good offense. For both of us to be in the game, which we both talk about a lot and both feel like we should be in the game making plays, it going to be huge for this offense.”
Cooley caught two passes for 21 yards, both out of multi-tight end formations. Only one of Davis‘ catches resulted from a set with multiple tight ends. In all, quarterback Rex Grossman targeted a tight end with 10 of his 34 attempts.
Although Grossman must progress through his reads in a sequence predetermined by offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, he believes Davis will frequently be targeted with specific play calls.
“Once you get that guy in space, not too many safeties can run with him, let alone linebackers,” Grossman said. “He’s a mismatch just because of his talent and speed. He’s a good route runner.