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With Lost Season Behind Him, Chris Cooley Has Sights On Return

By ZAC BOYER | zboyer@freelancestar.com | @ZacBoyer

ASHBURN – More important than Chris Cooley being present for the first of the Washington Redskins’ organized team activities earlier this week was what wasn’t – a bulky brace on his left knee.

Cooley

Cooley’s season ended Oct. 25, when he was placed on injured reserve after nearly three months of battling discomfort in the knee. The tight end revealed in January, when the season was over, he had fluid drained from the knee 15 times since returning for training camp, all of it owing to a torn medial meniscus he sustained in 2005.

He reported to Redskins Park in early March and has been fully cleared since voluntary workouts began in April. It would be a stretch to consider Cooley completely recovered from the injury, especially because it lingered for nearly seven years after it originally occurred, but the tight end is pleased with the improvements he’s made in his physical fitness.

“I’ve done a lot of hard work and a lot of running over the past two months and felt better than I’ve ever felt, so I’m continuing to get my feet back under me and my speed and where I felt comfortable as a playing level,” Cooley said. “But health-wise, I’ve felt the best I’ve felt.”

The 6-foot-3 tight end, who weighed in at 255 pounds before the season, proudly declared Monday he was down to 237 pounds. The weight loss traces back to last year, when he tried to lessen the pressure on the knee, and it’s been a focus of his since being medically cleared to resume working out.

This offseason is a pivotal one for Cooley, who will be entering his ninth year in the league. He saw Fred Davis take over his role as the team’s top tight end – an occurrence made possible partly because of the injury – and highly regarded receiver Niles Paul has begun making the transition to the position as well.

Davis, who was suspended for the final four games of last season after a failed drug test, returned to the Redskins on a one-year contract after the team designated him its franchise player.

He had 59 catches for 796 yards and three touchdowns when his season ended and was the Redskins’ leading receiver, and he said he dedicated his offseason to “focusing on the little stuff,” such as his footwork and running routes.

“I think it’s very apparent that Fred Davis had a great year for us last year, and we have a lot of talent on this football team,” Cooley said. “For me to contribute the way I would like to contribute, I feel like I have a big challenge ahead of me in proving that I’m still the player I think I can be and that I’m still the player that I was.”

“Chris has a great perspective on life,” said running back Tim Hightower, who had his own season shortened by a torn ACL and has spent the offseason rehabilitating his left knee. “It’s unfortunate, his situation, but if any guy can go through this kind of situation and remain positive and have the right outlook, it’s Chris. He doesn’t take anything too serious, anybody that knows him. Now, that being said, you know, he has a lot of respect for this game and is very passionate about it, but I think he keeps a good perspective, and that’s gonna help him out.”

Cooley has been one of the Redskins’ top receivers throughout his career. He caught 83 passes for 849 yards in 2008 and had as many receiving yards again in 2010, and he averaged nearly seven touchdowns during his first four seasons in the league.

He had just eight catches for 65 yards last year – one he said he was embarrassed by. That’s why he finds getting ready for this season to be much more important.

“I feel like I’ve worked hard enough and I feel like I’m in better shape than I’ve been in a long time and I feel like I can be as good as I’ve ever been,” Cooley said. “I know I can.”

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