Monday, April 26, 2004

Chris Cooley is going to be tempted to buy all kinds of extravagances when he signs his first contract with the Washington Redskins this summer.

He might want to think about using his newfound riches on a better cell phone.

When Joe Gibbs called the Cooley residence in Salt Lake City on Saturday night to talk to the Redskins’ third-round pick, the Utah State tight end was nowhere to be found. Turns out he was wandering in his mother’s front yard trying to get his cell phone to work, forcing his 18-year-old brother to place the Hall of Fame football coach on hold.

Cooley tried to retell the story yesterday afternoon on a conference call with Washington-area reporters, but sure enough, his cell phone kept bouncing in and out.

Said Cooley: “Maybe I should get a new service, huh?”

If this 6-foot-3, 265-pounder develops into the kind of player the Redskins envision, he should have no trouble affording any cell phone plan he wants.

Gibbs and his staff thought so highly of Cooley, they were willing to trade away next year’s second-round pick and swap places in this year’s fifth-round with the New Orleans Saints to select him 81st overall late Saturday night. Cooley also was one of about a dozen players invited to visit Redskin Park three weeks ago and the only one in the group not projected to be drafted in the first round.

“We kind of felt like he fit so well with us that it was to our advantage to bring him in,” Gibbs said yesterday. “He did a lot of stuff in college, which makes us think he’ll fit in real well here with us.”

Cooley, the nation’s leading tight end in receptions (62) and yards (732) last season, figures to have an opportunity to start for the Redskins at H-back. He will get his first chance to compete against veterans Mike Sellers and Brian Kozlowski at next weekend’s minicamp.

“I can’t wait,” Cooley said. “[Washington is] the perfect fit that I would choose for myself. I can’t wait to get there and to start learning it as fast as I can.”

A former defensive lineman who didn’t make the full-time switch to offense until his sophomore season at Utah State, Cooley had an inkling the Redskins might draft him when they made safety Sean Taylor their top pick Saturday instead of tight end Kellen Winslow II.

“I kind of expected it as at least a possibility because I made a trip out there and really got along well with the coaching staff,” he said. “And when Kellen Winslow didn’t get drafted, I knew that Washington didn’t have a [third-round] pick, but I kind of still expected something to happen there.”

Washington’s scouts had been keeping a close eye on Cooley, 21, for some time. He first started drawing attention late in his junior season when he made 22 of his 31 catches over the final four games. He became the focal point of the Aggies’ offense as a senior, setting a school record for receptions by a tight end, scoring six touchdowns and accounting for more than 25 percent of the offense’s passing yards.

Gibbs said Cooley has certain similarities to the standout pass-catching tight ends of his first coaching tenure (Clint Didier, Rick Walker, Terry Orr) and marveled at his brain power.

“All of our positions on offense, you’ve got to be very bright. But I’d say H-back is probably one of the biggest challenges,” Gibbs said. “It’s a pretty challenging position. But if you get the right person there, it gives you a lot of flexibility, and I think Chris is one of those guys who fits in well with our team.”

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