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MTK 08-11-2005 11:19 AM

FLS: Cooley wants full-time role H-Back has slimmed up for new year

ASHBURN--There are so many tasty little vices, those certain foods that make mouths water and tummies purr.
Some people get swallowed by cannonball-sized cheeseburgers. Others get scooped by ice cream.

Chris Cooley's weakness, it turns out, is potato chips--sour cream and onion, to be exact. The Washington Redskins' second-year H-back says he struggles to lay off the Lay's.

But following his pleasantly surprising rookie season, Cooley vowed to straighten his diet. Going by a Redskins-written nutrition plan, he swore off chips and soda and replaced them with water and raw vegetables.

He shed 15 pounds--now listed at 6-foot-3, 250--and lowered his body fat.

Cooley figured that by losing the girth he'd improve his worth. He's added muscle and quickness and plans to be a more valuable commodity to the Redskins' oft-sputtering offense. He wants to see extra snaps rather than being used mainly in third-and-long sets, as he was a year ago.

"Hopefully I'll be able to stretch the field a little more," he said. "I feel like I can get downfield and make an impact."

This offseason Cooley has worked extensively to improve his blocking and route running. With his added strength, he feels he can bang with any linebacker, and he sees no reason he can't become an every-down player.

Redskins offensive coordinator Don Breaux said Cooley will often line up as a tight end when the team goes to a three-wideout formation this year.

"The H-back is that hybrid position where you have to be an excellent blocker and also a pass-catcher," Breaux said. "We're going to use him like we'd utilize a wide receiver, and we're counting on him being a major part of the passing game."

During the first 10 days of training camp, Cooley has been one of the Redskins' most impressive performers.

He rarely drops catchable balls and often catches balls that others would drop.

He has become a fan favorite as well, as a cacophony of "Cooooooooley!" chants ring across the field with each of his receptions.

The young bulldozer's biggest fan, however, might be quarterback Patrick Ramsey.

When Ramsey took over for Mark Brunell as the team's starter against the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 21, he and Cooley formed an instant bond.

Over the first nine games of the season--all of which Brunell started--Cooley caught 11 passes for 96 yards. With Ramsey at the helm through the final seven games, Cooley grabbed 26 passes for 218 yards.

"Chris feels what I feel. I think [our chemistry] came as as much of a surprise to me as it did anyone," Ramsey said. "His hands are as good as anyone's. He can really catch it in traffic."

Cooley finished the year with six touchdowns and showed an uncanny ability to find mousehole-sized gaps in opposing zone defenses.

"I don't think a lot of people were really looking forward to him doing what he did," left tackle Chris Samuels said. "But we all knew what we had back there."

Now the rest of the league knows, too, and Cooley figures to be more than a blip on opponents' scouting reports. That's fine with him.

He's far more comfortable today than he was as a wide-eyed training camp rookie a year ago. He doesn't have to worry about singing in front of the team, getting thrown into ice baths or other rookie hazing rituals. He can focus on football and finding a way to squeeze through defenses on first-and-10 and third-and-long.

He's got a year--and less belly--under his belt, and he's ready to shine.

"The biggest thing for me is I fit in and know my place," Cooley said. "Now I just want to become a major contributor on this team."

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