- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 24, 2009

Two months ago, Fred Davis’ career numbers were negligible. The Washington Redskins’ second-year tight end had 10 catches for 72 yards and no touchdowns in 17 games as an infrequently used backup to Chris Cooley.

So when Cooley broke his right ankle in Week 6, the Redskins were worried.

“When Chris went down, we were like, ‘Oh my,’ ” center Casey Rabach said.

But Davis stepped up with eight catches for 78 yards and a touchdown that night against Philadelphia, and he hasn’t stopped producing since. In his past eight games, Davis has 33 catches for 389 yards and six touchdowns. Five of those touchdowns have come in the past four games.

His six touchdowns rank fourth among NFL tight ends and are twice as many as any other Redskins player has scored.

“He’s our most improved player,” coach Jim Zorn raved. “He has learned his assignments. He doesn’t make many errors. He wants the ball. I’ve been very impressed.”

So has tight ends coach Scott Wachenheim, who loves the 257-pound Davis’ explosiveness.

“I don’t think people realize how fast Fred is and how quick he is,” Wachenheim said. “He’s full-speed in two steps. With how much he weighs, how fast he accelerates sets him apart.”

Wachenheim’s extra work with Davis during the bye week after the Eagles game has helped him accelerate his game. The coach and player spent about two hours each day watching film and two more on the field.

“We got back to the fundamentals, the basics of playing the position,” Wachenheim said.

Added Davis: “It’s paid off a lot. Even though it was just a few days, staying here, my mindset focused on what I had to do while Chris was gone. Coach Wach would show me little technique stuff that I could try. I knew I could catch the ball.

“I was overextending on some of my blocking footwork. When you’re playing against the good [defensive ends], they notice that. They’ll give you a good bull rush, and you’ll be off-balance and they can knock you off.”

Davis knocked some of the luster off his status as the nation’s top tight end as a senior at Southern Cal by oversleeping a practice during his rookie minicamp. He never really recovered until these past eight games.

With 40 catches and 434 yards, Davis is just four catches and 55 yards from passing Antwaan Randle El for second on the Redskins in both categories. Veteran backup tight end Todd Yoder said he sees “a huge improvement” in Davis since last year.

He’s not alone in that view.

“It’s amazing compared to where he was,” Rabach said. “He’s really come along and done some great things for us. He’s not easy to be tackled. He’s picking up yards after contact, making big plays and scoring touchdowns. He’s a better blocker just from getting all the reps.”

So what happens next season when Cooley is healthy again? Although Cooley has been out for seven-plus games, he and Davis make Washington one of just two teams - Green Bay is the other - with two tight ends with at least 29 catches.

So while Wachenheim said “the future is very bright at the tight end position,” it’s questionable whether the Redskins will use Cooley and Davis extensively in 2010.

“When I first got here, I didn’t know how they were going to use me since Chris was here,” Davis said. “In the beginning, I think they wanted to use me, but they didn’t know if they could trust me. Then I had a mistake - oversleeping.

“But when they see you perform, that changes everything. I feel like I’m coming on each week stronger and stronger. … I play better the more I play.”

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