As the second quarter began Monday night at FedEx Field, Fred Davis stood on the sideline of the Washington Redskins as usual.
Davis was the nation’s top tight end as a senior at Southern Cal in 2007. But with the Redskins, he was better known for oversleeping and missing a practice during rookie minicamp than for anything he had accomplished on the field.
Davis, in fact, had caught just 10 passes for 99 yards since being chosen in the second round of the 2008 draft.
That all changed on the first play of the second quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles, when a bone snapped in the ankle of starting tight end Chris Cooley.
Davis, suddenly, was a starter. And he told quarterback Jason Campbell to rely on him as much as he did Cooley.
“I just told him, ‘I know Chris is a big factor in the offense. I’ll be here if you need to check-down, something with sure hands. I’ll catch the ball. I’m ready to go,’ ” Davis said.
Campbell immediately began establishing that trust.
Washington got the ball back, and three plays later Campbell completed a 6-yard pass to Davis to keep a touchdown drive moving. And on third-and-16 in the final minute of the half, Davis got free for an 18-yard catch that pushed the Redskins into Eagles territory en route to a field goal.
Campbell threw a game-high 10 passes to Davis, who led both teams with eight catches for 78 yards. Davis capped his big night with a touchdown, the first of his NFL career, on the Redskins’ final offensive play of the game.
“I thought Fred did a wonderful job of picking up the slack,” said coach Jim Zorn, who called the loss of Cooley “devastating” to an already-faltering offense.
Cooley likely won’t miss the rest of the season, as Zorn originally feared. Dr. Mark Myerson successfully repaired the fracture in Cooley’s lower right tibia on Wednesday morning. With Zorn standing just two feet away, Cooley had three screws inserted into the ankle.
“It was a very noninvasive procedure - it was done in such a way that if all goes well, we’ll get him back in as little as four weeks,” Zorn said Wednesday during his weekly appearance on “The Sports Fix” on ESPN 980.
Cooley will be kept on the 53-man roster, leaving him eligible to play if the injury allows him to return for the final month of the season. The Redskins will play short-handed in the interim, a move Zorn called “a risk, and it looks like it’s going to be a pretty good risk.”
Cooley could be ready to play as soon as Nov. 29, when the Redskins head to Philadelphia to face the Eagles again.
In the meantime, the job belongs to Davis, whose touchdown came one play after he bobbled and dropped a slightly overthrown ball while wide open in the end zone.
“I had that one in my hands,” said Davis, who had the ball from his touchdown in his locker after the game. “I should’ve had that catch. To get a second chance is great. It was a chance to redeem myself.”
Davis, who hasn’t played as much as the Redskins envisioned when he was drafted because of his struggles in pass protection, also needs to redeem himself as a blocker. He was to blame on at least one of the six sacks Campbell suffered against Philadelphia.
In response to that mistake and his newfound role, Davis canceled his plans to spend the bye week in Los Angeles. Instead, he’ll remain at Redskin Park to work on his blocking.
“That vacation stuff can wait until after the season,” Davis said. “I’m gonna stay here, watch film and work on stuff that I need to.”
Backup Todd Yoder, a 10-year veteran, is the resident expert on tight end blocking.
“The more Fred plays, the better he’ll do,” Yoder said. “Once you’ve done it, you know you can do it as opposed to being a little unsure. Now he’ll be able to get into a rhythm.”
Davis has always been in a rhythm catching the ball and not just on check-downs. Like Cooley, Davis can be a playmaker downfield. A former high school hurdler, Davis averaged 14.2 yards on his 62 catches as a USC senior.
So far, he has impressed the Redskins in practice. Now Davis finally will get a chance to show what he can do when it counts.
“All I need is an opportunity to make plays, and I’ll make some,” Davis said. “This is not the way you want [to get the opportunity]. But that’s the way the league is. One guy goes down. You got to be able to fill his shoes - or try. That’s why they drafted me second round, to be able to make plays.”