- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 9, 2005

“Get open. You’re getting the ball.”

Every receiver wants to be told those words, but few earn enough of their quarterback’s trust to hear it coming out of the huddle, particularly as a rookie.

But Chris Cooley did last year when the Washington Redskins played Cincinnati. Facing a third-and-9 in the second half, quarterback Patrick Ramsey emerged from the huddle and told Cooley to get open. Period.

Moments later, Cooley caught a 9-yard touchdown pass, earning the confidence of Ramsey and taking a big step in cementing his status as the Redskins’ best red zone receiver.

“That was such a big deal for me, especially after we completed it,” Cooley said. “It makes a big difference knowing somebody has so much faith in you.”

Now the Redskins’ starting H-back, Cooley has the faith not only of Ramsey but of the entire offense. He will be expected to line up at no fewer than four positions — tight end, receiver, H-back and occasionally fullback — when the Redskins start the regular season Sept. 11 against Chicago.

“Last year, I was working hard and didn’t know if I would play or where I would play,” Cooley said after yesterday afternoon’s 90-minute practice at Redskin Park. “Now I know all of the players and coaches trust me and are counting on me.”

Cooley led the Redskins’ anemic offense with six touchdown catches last year. He totaled 37 catches for 314 yards, with 27 of those receptions coming in the final eight games.

“Last year it was obvious we leaned on him, particularly in the red zone,” offensive coordinator Don Breaux said. “Chris and Patrick had a good rapport down there.”

Each of Cooley’s touchdowns came from inside the 10-yard line, and he averaged 8.5 yards a reception.

With a better grasp of coach Joe Gibbs’ offense and an offseason spent improving his speed and route running, Cooley wants to become a downfield threat.

“I want to stretch the field,” he said. “I’m a lot quicker — I’m out there running routes on safeties, and I can see them stumbling when I’m making my breaks.”

The improved speed also will benefit Cooley when he’s lined up as a receiver.

“Our H-back position is a hybrid where you have to be an excellent blocker and you have to be able to win in the passing game,” Breaux said. “And we feel comfortable enough to split him out — you’re going to see him out there sometimes, and we’ll utilize him as we would our receivers.

“We’re counting on him to be a major part of our passing game.”

H-back and receiver are just two of Cooley’s duties.

“He has to know every position on the field and be able to play at any spot at any given time,” tight end Mike Sellers said.

Sellers was only slightly exaggerating.

“Everything but quarterback and offensive line,” Cooley said.

But when Cooley is at tight end, he’s part of the blocking scheme. He said he blocks on half of the offensive plays.

“My blocking is awesome right now — it’s the thing I’m the most excited about,” he said. “I was almost unsure of it coming into camp.

“I came in [last year] and was almost afraid to block some of the guys. Against Carolina in the preseason, I was like, ‘I can’t block Julius Peppers. That guy will kill me.’ So I would play timid. Now, even though I’m smaller [6-foot-3, 265 pounds] than they are, I can get into guys quickly. I’m not going to run them over, but I’ll block them.”

Cooley’s blocking last year was a work-in-progress, but he turned the corner in the passing game at Pittsburgh in Week 10. On a fourth-and-2 play, he caught a 2-yard touchdown, one of his season-high seven receptions.

“I always had good faith in myself, but that’s when I started thinking, ‘These guys are starting to go to me,’ ” he said. “The first half of the season, I would watch film and think that the team we were playing was way better than the last team. But against Pittsburgh, things really started clicking for me, and I told myself, ‘I’m a good football player in this league.’ ”

Cooley, a third-round pick in 2004 from Utah State, hopes the offseason work will quicken his development and help ignite a stagnant offense.

“We need to be scoring more points, and when you get into the red zone, the tight end is a good target,” he said.

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