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After Eight Weeks Away, If Not Entirely Off, Chris Cooley Returns To Redskins

By ZAC BOYER

zboyer@freelancestar.com | @ZacBoyer

ASHBURN – The No. 4 was hanging by a thread, and the No. 7 was completely missing.

Cooley

It was about all that went awry for Chris Cooley on his first day back with the Washington Redskins.

Cooley returned to work on Wednesday, two days after he signed a new contract to rejoin the only team he’s ever played for.

For as hastily stitched together as his clean white practice jersey appeared, Cooley’s return wasn’t.

“I’ve been in and out of the park quite a bit, and I’ve seen all the guys, and I think half of them thought I was just here to do my Larry Michael show on Wednesdays,” Cooley said, referring to the team-produced cable television show. “‘You didn’t dress up today, man.’ Well, a different dress-up.”

Cooley, the franchise’s all-time leader in receptions by a tight end and, for years, its most popular player, had officially been away from the team for eight weeks. In the meantime, he returned to Redskins Park to make multiple media and charity appearances, making clear all the while his desire to play for the Redskins once again.

That opportunity arose late Sunday when head coach Mike Shanahan called Cooley shortly after the team returned from its road loss to the New York Giants and starting tight end Fred Davis tore his left Achilles’ tendon.

He passed his physical Monday morning and signed his contract, then, on Wednesday, he returned to his old locker in the far corner of the room and headed down to the fields for practice that afternoon.

“It was great to have Cool-Man back, as I call him,” quarterback Robert Griffin III said. “He did good today. I’ve always wanted to throw a pass to him. I completed one to him in the preseason, but that doesn’t count, so hopefully we can get one here in this next game. But he’s coming back to do his job, and that involves blocking and doing a lot of other things and catching the ball in the backfield.”

How exactly Cooley will be used still remains uncertain, even as he prepares for what could be his return Sunday at Pittsburgh. Shanahan didn’t want to disclose what his plans are for Cooley, citing competitive advantage, and the Redskins have developed two other tight ends, Logan Paulsen and Niles Paul.

Paulsen, in his third year, had a team-high 76 receiving yards on four catches against the Giants, originally playing alongside Davis but stepping into his role after he was injured late in the first quarter. Paul, a converted receiver, is still struggling with the transition but was on the field for 38 of the Redskins’ 70 offensive possessions.

Their emergence was part of the reason why Cooley was shown the door in the first place. But Cooley has said he’s physically fit and prepared to play football again, and Shanahan said his health was reflected in the tight end’s first practice since the third week of the preseason.

“Tomorrow we’ve got a padded practice, and we’ve got a chance to see him more in a live situation, but he looks like he’s in good shape,” Shanahan said afterward. “He’s ready to go. He knows the system, which gives him a tremendous advantage in what to do, and he looks like he’s been running just by the way he handled the workload he had today.”

The two-month break was beneficial, Cooley said, as it gave him time to ponder life without football. Still, he said, it stung a bit because he wasn’t entirely ready to make that departure.

That made it easy for him to return and slip back into a role he held for eight seasons, if not the exact same practice jersey.

“I didn’t want to be done when it was done,” Cooley said. “It wasn’t my choice, [but] the time was definitely not bad time. It was time for me to do whatever I wanted, and it was a good break, but at the same time, this is the way I hoped anything would have played out, at least for my career. I’m thrilled to be here.”

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