July 11, 2009

Redskins Roster Review: Tight Ends

For all of the offensive futility the Washington Redskins have struggled through, one thing they haven’t lacked the past few seasons is a quality corps of tight ends.

Chris Cooley will remain the starter coming into 2009 and with good reason. A third round draft choice out of Utah State, Cooley has become the fan favorite in DC. He posted 83 catches for 849 yards last season, and improved as a blocker as well. He is the Redskins lone threat over the middle and he moves the chains more consistently than any of Jason Campbell’s other targets.

This offseason Cooley shed 20 pounds in an effort to become more of a threat with the ball in his hands. Early indications are that this was a successful shedding. Cooley has been more explosive and has added strength according to reports.

Cooley wasn’t targeted enough in the red zone and it showed up on the stat sheet as he snagged just one TD pass last season. That marked the first time in his career that Cooley caught less than six TDs in a season.

Expect that to change as head coach Jim Zorn will better utilize him in the red zone. In addition, Zorn is hoping to see the development of his second round pick from last year, USC tight end Fred Davis.

Davis won the Mackey award in 2007, given to the nation’s top collegiate TE. However, that success hasn’t yet translated to the professional level.

Davis saw very little time last season, and some question his commitment to football last season. However, Davis possesses the size and skill to be a soid complement to Cooley.

A two TE set would be an ideal formation to work out of for Campbell. Both TEs are big with tremendous ball skills, meaning mismatches for opposing defenses. However this can’t happen if Davis doesn’t jump ahead of the curve in his second year.

Davis couldn’t even take the number two TE spot last season. That belonged to Todd Yoder. Yoder was used in a reserve role, but he did catch eight passes for 50 yards and a TD.

Yoder was more of a blocker and he filled the role well whenever he got on the field. He possesses a blue collar work ethic that endears him to the fans. Davis should watch him closely and pick up on his drive because Yoder plays beyond his abilities thanks to the work he puts in.

The final TE on the roster is undrafted Delaware product Robert Agnone. Agnone caught 71 passes for 886 yards and 11 TDs in his college career, in which he spent some time with current Ravens QB Joe Flacco. Agnone is the tallest TE on the team at 6-6, but he remains a longshot to make the final roster.

On a side note, Zorn’s second year running the west coast offense will be under heavy scrutiny. He underused Cooley last year especially in the red zone, something that can’t be repeated given the underachieving WR corps. If Davis progresses, then Zorn will have to give preference to the TEs because they give him legitimate targets over the middle.

In addition, Campbell is comfortable throwing to Cooley on third downs. Zorn did get Cooley involved on third down last year, but that was simply because the receivers struggled to gain separation. Cooley must become a primary option the passing game and not just on third down because he is the best the Redskins have in terms of consistency.

Overall Grade: A-

You have to like what Cooley gives you every week. He shows up to play every game and is Mr. Reliable. Considering the sometimes woeful state of the Redskins’ offense, it’s refreshing to see Cooley on the field.

Yoder isn’t a gamebreaker, but his main contributions don’t often show up on the stat sheet. He won’t get any attention, but he gets the job done and is an adequate number two TE.

Of course this grade would be an A if Davis just flashed his amazing potential. Davis is like much of the rest of the Redskin offense. The potential is there, but remains untapped.

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