- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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My Washington Redskins fans ask a lot about tight end Chris Cooley, who's one of their favorite players but hasn't been the same the past few years due to injuries, the emergence of Fred Davis and some other factors. The most common question I get about Cooley these days is whether he's a sure thing to be on the Redskins' 2012 roster. And after spending a couple of days earlier this week at Redskins minicamp and talking to Redskins people there, I can definitively tell you this: I don't know.
The two biggest things working against Cooley are health concerns and his salary. Cooley missed 11 games last year with hand and knee injuries, and he's been limited this offseason by knee, hamstring and groin problems. He turns 30 next month, and while a writer who turns 40 next month would never, ever suggest in print that 30 is old, it is an age after which injuries don't generally become less of a problem for an NFL player. (Or, for that matter, a writer.) There is some skepticism in the building about whether Cooley can be healthy enough to help, and with Davis now one of the best receiving tight ends in the league and Niles Paul being groomed as a tight end, it appears Cooley might have to accept a greatly reduced role.
With that, of course, could come a greatly reduced salary. Cooley is scheduled to make a base salary of $3.8 million this year, and it's unlikely the Redskins could or would want to keep him at that number, given their league-imposed cap difficulties and Cooley's status as the No. 2 or No. 3 tight end on the roster. Cooley may have to accept a pay cut if he wants to stay.
What's working in Cooley's favor, of course, is the sort of guy he is and his affinity for the team for which he plays. He loves playing for the Redskins and likely would accept a reduced salary and/or a reduced role if that's what it took to stay. He also could show in training camp and the preseason that he's healthy enough to play a larger role than they currently suspect he can. So the situation remains fluid, and Cooley's status is far from determined.
Some other notes left in my notebook from my Tuesday and Wednesday in Ashburn:
-Mike Shanahan has no concerns about Paul's ability to develop into a passing-game weapon as a tight end: "I had Shannon Sharpe, and I also had Byron Chamberlain, Billy Miller, Desmond Clark… I've had a lot of wide receivers that have been tight ends that have wound up playing at a very high level," Shanahan told me. "And this kid is faster than all of them. He's probably as physical as any receiver I've ever been around. You watch him as a gunner on the punt team. And defensive backs, I don't care whether it's a safety or a corner, they can't slow him down. He's under a 4.5 (40-yard dash time) guy. There aren't too many tight ends at 235 pounds who can run like that."
The only question about Paul is whether he can block well enough to really be an effective replacement for Cooley if it comes to that. I asked Shanahan that question directly, and while he didn't want to talk specifically about Cooley's status, he did mention Cooley was exceptionally strong as a blocker and there's no way to know how Paul will do as a blocker until the portion of the offseason in which the players are allowed to put pads on and make contact with each other.
-The running back situation remains a muddle, as Tim Hightower, Roy Helu, Evan Royster, Tristan Davis and fullback Darrel Young all missed minicamp practices this week with injury issues. This resulted in a lot of carries for Alfred Morris in practice. The Redskins like their depth at this position if everyone's healthy, but they'll continue to monitor everyone's health, especially Hightower's as he recovers from last year's ACL tear, and decide whether they need to bring another running back to camp next month.
-All eyes on the offensive line are on right tackle Jammal Brown. The Redskins looked at options for replacing Brown but couldn't sign any of them, and now they're hoping he stays healthy. If he can, they love what he brings to their zone blocking scheme. An offseason yoga regimen is said to have improved Brown's flexibility and eliminated some scar tissue. And if he does struggle with his health again, Shanahan mentioned Willie Smith, Tyler Polumbus and Maurice Hurt as guys who impressed and improved when pressed into service last year and James Lee as a veteran who has some experience in the NFL. Basically, he feels a little better about his depth behind the starters on the line than he did a year ago.
-Roster overhaul. Since Shanahan took over before the 2010 season, the Redskins have cut 150 players, and only one of those players -- San Francisco's Carlos Rogers -- is currently starting for another team.
-Wow. Would you look at that? More than 800 words on the Redskins and not one mention of the rookie quarterback. Bet you didn't think it could be done.