- The Washington Times - Friday, September 15, 2006

The expectations for Chris Cooley and Brandon Lloyd were huge entering this season. The tight end and receiver were coming off big years and playing in the fortified attack of the Washington Redskins’ new offensive guru, Al Saunders.

The fizzle for the pair in the Redskins’ season-opening loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Monday was as large as those hopes were high.

Cooley caught 71 passes for the Redskins last season, more than any tight end in the NFC. Receiver Brandon Lloyd caught 16 more passes than any other player on his team, then the San Francisco 49ers.

The results in the 19-16 loss to the Vikings were less impressive. Cooley caught two passes and lost 3 yards. Lloyd, for whom the Redskins traded in March, fared worse: He didn’t catch a pass in a game for just the second time in his 30 career starts.

“The quarterback decides who gets the ball and Coach Saunders decides what play is going to be called,” Lloyd said. “All I can do is go out there and play 100 percent. Sometimes flying around and playing fast influences a defense as much as making a catch.”

Cooley was equally non-plused about his lack of production.

“I had some opportunities to make a couple of plays, but things didn’t really flow my way,” Cooley said. “I had a [possible] big play over the middle and I ran into the official. Another one down the middle of the field, Mark [Brunell] said he couldn’t see me. Sometimes that happens.”

Saunders directed the NFL’s most-productive offense the past five seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, where he wasn’t blessed with as many playmakers as he has with the Redskins in Cooley, Lloyd, Pro Bowl receiver Santana Moss and running back Clinton Portis, who holds the club’s single-season record for rushing.

That problem — finding ways to utilize so many strong players on offense — is a nice one for Saunders to try to solve.

“We generally try to get everyone involved in the game early and we tried that on Monday, but we were counting on having more than 53 plays,” said Saunders, whose offense averaged 66 snaps last year. “When you have 70 snaps, the ball is fairly well distributed. We tried throw to Brandon four times. You can’t guarantee the completion. We had a mis-blocked play that was supposed to go to Chris. A couple of times when he was downfield, the coverage just didn’t cooperate. I’m not going to get concerned after just one game.”

The coverage of the Dallas Cowboys, the Redskins’ opponent on Sunday, cooperated all too well with Cooley and Lloyd last season.

Cooley burned the Cowboys with six catches for 71 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-7 rout by the Redskins in December. Lloyd produced two touchdowns and 142 yards on four catches for the 49ers against Dallas last September.

Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said coaches shouldn’t worry about distributing the ball equally every week.

“Those are certainly weapons that make them more explosive,” Parcells said. “I don’t think that you should be concerned with making people happy. You should be concerned with moving the ball the best way that you can utilizing the players in the best roles that you can use them.

“There are going to be games when certain receivers are going to be taken out of the game. If you really want to commit to stopping one player, you can do it.”

Saunders said Charlie Joiner, a receiver for him with the San Diego Chargers and his receivers coach in Kansas City, used to remind the Chiefs’ wideouts that sometimes “‘I caught two balls and sometimes I caught eight, and I’m in the Hall of Fame.’ Everybody would like to get the ball. I would be disappointed if they weren’t looking to do that to help the team win. You like that attitude.”

Neither Cooley nor Lloyd would predict big things for them Sunday against the Cowboys just because they succeeded last year.

“We’ve got a lot of playmakers so it’s difficult to focus on one guy,” Cooley said.

Said Lloyd: “The coverages were in my favor to have a game like that. They were blitzing a lot and they had a lot of one-on-one coverage. That was last year. I’m not really concerned what happened last year or what happened last week.”

As for what could happen this week, Brunell said, “Every game will be different. This week, Brandon might get a lot of balls thrown at him this week and maybe Chris [too]. We’ve got guys who can certainly help our offense. We want to get everybody involved.”



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