Even now, after an injury-filled season and with the arrival of Robert Griffin III, tight end Chris Cooley still commands attention. He remains one of the Redskins' most popular players, with fans shouting, “Cooooley” every time he catches the ball in practice. Just as they do in games.
The question is: Will they scream for him this season?
And the even bigger question is: How is Cooley's health? That, as much as anything, will determine his future in Washington. Cooley missed 11 games in 2011 because of his left knee, which needed surgery that offseason.
Nearly a week into training camp Cooley hasn't missed any time because of his knee, or any other ailment for that matter from groins to hamstrings. Both of which bothered him in the spring.
“I took my time this offseason coming back from how I felt last year,” Cooley said. “I slowly worked into running harder and hard, and whatever level it was at as soon as there was no problem, I advanced another level. I have no concerns. My injuries from last year are feeling much better.”
And in camp he's spent his usual time working with the first unit as the No. 2 tight end. He doesn't show much explosion after the catch these days, though speed was never a big part of his game. Breaking tackles enabled him to get yards after the catch.
The emergence of the more athletic Fred Davis last season has left Cooley in a new role. It also means there are serious questions about his future in Washington.
But there are issues that could keep Cooley around, starting with Davis being one more positive drug test from being suspended for a year.
“It's just always something that's going to stick around,” Davis said, “but you've just got to prove when you go out there on the field and you play, you show them what you can do and you make good decisions and you'll be straight.”
The Redskins moved receiver Niles Paul to tight end in the offseason and he's looked quick thus far in camp. The question on Paul involves his blocking. He's only 233 pounds, but in this offense a lot of his blocks are done on the move – whether around the edge or against a backside end -- so his quickness matters more than his bulk. Plus he runs a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash and could be dangerous if there's a mismatch.
They also have Logan Paulsen, a blocking tight end having a solid camp. The Redskins kept four tight ends a year ago so it's not unreasonable to think they'll do it again.
“I think when you see that much competition on a team, it breeds great talent and guys stepping up and performing under pressure, because they have to perform under pressure every day in practice," Cooley said. "It will be a big challenge for me, and it will be a big challenge for this team to play good football.”
Cooley still offers value if healthy, though. He can play tight end or fullback in a pinch (actually, all the tight ends know both spots, but Cooley suits this role best). He still has good hands. And he's still a better blocker than Davis.
But Cooley needs to show he can still be a threat in the passing game to get yards after the catch. And, most importantly, he must show that he can withstand the grind of a 16-game season. As one longtime NFC East assistant coach recently told the Washington Examiner, “Once the tread on your tires go, you can't put it back on.” At 30 years old Cooley has some tread. The Redskins know this; but what they need to see through the preseason is if those tires have a little more life in them.
Follow John Keim on Twitter @CBSSportsNFLWAS or @John_Keim.