Today we continue a new series of articles looking at each position on the Washington Redskins and rating them for strength and weaknesses, from starters to reserve players. This is part of run-up to Redskins training camp 2010, where DC Pro Sports Report coverage will be bigger and better than ever before.
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We continue our positional analyses with TIGHT END.
Outgoing: Todd Yoder [free agent]
Incoming: Dennis Morris [6th round draft pick], Lee Vickers [free agent], Logan Paulson [rookie free agent]
Holdovers: Chris Cooley, Fred Davis
Chris Cooley [29 catches, 332 yards, 2 TD] was on his way to another Pro Bowl season -- he would have had over 70 catches for almost 800 yards at his 2009 pace -- when he broke an ankle during a week 7 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Fred Davis had caught only 7 passes during the season to that point and was regarded as perhaps the worst bust of the 2008 2nd round class, which includes Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas. However, Davis immediately filled in for Cooley, catching a TD pass in that game and going on to finish the season with 48 catches for 509 yards [10.3] and 6 TD. Davis soon went from 2nd round bust to potential star tight end, playing so well that some fans suggested the Redskins should trade Cooley for an offensive lineman. Wisely, the Redskins did not do that and a tight end duo that combined for 79 catches for 841 yards [10.6] and 8 TD returns healthy for the 2010 season. The other tight end was Todd Yoder, a special teamer most of the time, who caught 4 passes, 3 for touchdowns. Of the three, Yoder was the best blocker, though Davis showed improvement in that area from, admittedly, a pretty low starting point.
Those of us who favored keeping both Cooley and Davis and using them on the field at the same time in 2010 are likely to get our wish granted. During OTAs this offseason the Redskins have run more than a few plays with both Cooley and Davis on the field and it appears they envision Cooley as the possession, "move the chains" type of receiver, with Davis being used to make more plays along the hash marks down the field. Davis does appear to be quicker than Cooley, but Cooley had the superior yards per catch average last year so it does not necessarily follow that Davis will be better at making plays downfield. Nevertheless, with the Redskins wide receiving corps leaving much to be desired [read this for more on that], it is likely the Redskins will rely on the tight end position to make more plays than most NFL offenses -- even west coast offenses.
Head Coach Mike Shanahan likes to use the tight end position in his passing offense, as anyone who watched Shannon Sharpe play himself into the Hall of Fame in a Denver Broncos uniform. Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan's top two tight ends in Houston last year caught 66 passes for 839 yards [12.7] and 6 TD -- and Owen Daniels and Joel Dreessen are not nearly the athletes that Cooley and Davis are. In other words, expect the Redskins offense to focus on getting Cooley and Davis matched up against opposing linebackers as much as possible -- and then throwing them the football.
The other tight ends on the roster figure to play vastly lesser roles on the team in 2010, barring injury. Morris is a college fullback who can also play tight end and if he demonstrates a decent ability to play both positions -- thus providing extra depth by spelling FB Mike Sellers -- he should make the team. Vickers has shown well in the offseason, demonstrating sticky hands and an ability to get open. Paulsen is a smart player who earned academic honors at UCLA. He will have to block well and earn his way on to the team by standing out on special teams.
Tight end is almost certainly the strongest position on the team.