Cooley blocked the defensive end on one play during the team’s spring practice and later slipped out on a pass route. It felt like old times.
“This is the best I’ve felt in a while,” he said. “It’s a pleasure to be back.”
The Redskins‘ all-time leading tight end is working his way back this offseason from the nadir of his eight-year career. His role was reduced last season, and he ended the year on injured reserve. That created considerable uncertainty about his future.
Cooley on Monday acknowledged the difficulty facing him this summer, but he believes he finally is healthy enough to return to the form that once made him a star in this town.
“For me to contribute the way I would like to contribute, I think I have a big challenge ahead of me in proving that I’m still the player I think I can be and I’m still the player I was,” he said. “That’s something that I’m honestly excited about.”
While Davis led the team in receptions and receiving yards at the time of his December drug suspension, Cooley finished the season on injured reserve. He broke his hand in a vicious tackle Oct. 23, but his knee was what ended his year.
Cooley repeatedly had it drained of fluid during training camp and the regular season, and it affected his speed. He was highly critical of his performance when speaking to reporters Monday.
Now, with his 30th birthday July 11, he returns to a crowded tight end depth chart. Davis is back from his suspension, and the Redskins converted wide receiver Niles Paul to tight end. Shanahan hopes he can fill the role Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe did for his championship teams in Denver.
Whether Cooley’s roster spot is secure remains unclear.
The Redskins would save $3.8 million in salary cap space by releasing him after June 1. At the very least, his role is in doubt. That’s a bit of a shock considering he is only two years removed from tying his career high in receiving yardage.
“The NFL changes fast, and it’s a drastic business,” he said. “It’s tough for athletes, but I put in so much work. It’s a job that I love, and it’s a job that I’ve really treasured for a long time. It’s something I want to continue to do well.”
Shanahan is pleased with what Cooley has shown him so far. He was unable to comment Monday after his involvement in an on-field collision near the end of practice, but he has closely followed Cooley’s progress throughout the offseason.