- The Washington Times - Friday, September 26, 2008

Watching the NFL Draft at home last spring, Chris Cooley was surprised when the Washington Redskins selected Southern California’s Fred Davis in the second round.

The previous season, Cooley - a pass-catching tight end - earned his first Pro Bowl selection and signed a new contract.

Yet the Redskins drafted Davis - a pass-catching tight end - to add another option for coach Jim Zorn’s West Coast passing scheme.

“I’m still going to be on the field and play every play,” Cooley said this summer.

Cooley’s prediction proved accurate. Through three games, he has remained an every-down player and one of Jason Campbell’s favorite targets (13 catches).

But Davis’ addition also represented a growing trend in the league: the need for a second tight end with receiving skills.

Dallas, which hosts Washington on Sunday, selected Martellus Bennett to team with Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten. The New York Jets, with Chris Baker and Bubba Franks on the roster, took Dustin Keller in the first round. And Kansas City drafted Brad Cottam in the third round to join Tony Gonzalez.

Athletic tight ends who can dominate linebackers down the field and help block defensive tackles in the run game have become a premium, the reason the Redskins weren’t expecting to address the position but snapped up Davis with the 48th pick.

“It gives you an opportunity to do a lot of personnel groupings,” Redskins executive vice president Vinny Cerrato said. “Teams that are using the tight end a lot and have multiple tight ends can take advantage of that, and I don’t see how you turn down a good player when you have an opportunity to take him.”

While Davis has played only four snaps in two games, the Redskins envision teaming Davis and Cooley in pass routes and implementing veteran Todd Yoder as a blocker and short-range receiver.

Zorn wants his tight ends to block effectively and have route-running skills and reliable hands.

“It doesn’t even have to do with the athleticism,” he said. “The tight end is a really special position. He has to be as mean as a linebacker, he has to have hands as supple as a receiver and run routes like a receiver and he has to block like a lineman. That’s a special talent. The guys that we have absolutely [have that talent]. I’ve been on teams where we’ve had three tight ends and you wanted to clone them and mash them into one guy.”

The Redskins this season have run only 39 two tight-end formations, but Zorn isn’t against having two tight ends on the field. He prefers them at different spots.

“That makes your offense that much better when you’re trying to design and call plays,” Zorn said. “I can use these guys with more flexibility and not worry about who’s in there. I just call the play. But if you have a tight end on your team that can do only one thing - and we don’t - then you’re constantly scripting and game-planning for that particular guy in a particular situation.”

The Oakland Raiders became the first team to include two tight ends in a passing offense simultaneously. Oakland had Dave Casper but reacquired Raymond Chester in a trade with Houston. In 1979, Chester caught 58 passes (eight touchdowns) and Casper 57 (three touchdowns).

Tight ends were marquee players in the 1980s - San Diego’s Kellen Winslow and Oakland’s Todd Christensen led the NFL in receiving twice apiece.

But in the 1990s, only New England’s Ben Coates and Denver’s Shannon Sharpe had 1,000-yard seasons.

“The stigma back then was that the tight end was a blocker and would make some interior-type catches - that was deemed as good,” said Yoder, who has 13 catches in 104 career games.

In the last 10 years the position has re-emerged because big, fast tight ends have proved effective against defensive backs and linebackers. Six tight ends led their teams in receiving in 2007, including Witten (96) and Cooley (66).

Witten is Tony Romo’s favorite target. He has 160 catches in Romo’s 29 regular-season starts.

“He’s an excellent player,” Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Blache said of Witten. “He’s a very good weapon, and they use him wisely.”

Cooley has been on the field for all but 15 plays this season but sees the advantage of having Davis once the rookie gets up to speed.

“I think it can be a benefit,” he said. “We run it with a lot of different personnel. That’s obvious from seeing us run on and off the field so much.”

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