By now, every Redskins fan is aware of the uncertainty in the team's receiving corps. Will Santana Moss be enough? Will Anthony Armstrong translate his preseason success to the regular season? Will Joey Galloway break a hip? A lot questions without many answers, but there are two players who could make career years out of the receiving deficiency.
With the Broncos, and with Shanahan as head coach, Sharpe thrived as a pass-catching tight end playing an integral part in their back-to-back Super Bowl winning seasons. Cooley and Davis are in a similar situation, helped greatly by the deficiency on the outside. McNabb is also known to lean on tight ends in short and mid-range passing situations.
If someone other than Santana Moss happens to emerge in the first few weeks of the season, the tight ends will see more passes thrown their way, as opposing defenses will not be allowed to commit as much coverage to both tight ends. As it is, Davis and Cooley both outmatch most defenders. They're too fast for the average linebacker and too big for the average safety or corner to cover.
Cooley picked up where he left off before his injury by posting a six-catch, 80-yard night against Dallas. His numbers put him as the team's leading receiver heading into Week 2.
That is both comforting and terrifying at the same time.
If Cooley is the leading receiver, what does that say about the actual receivers on the team? Moss had six catches himself, but also dropped a key reception for a first down in the second half against Dallas. Anthony Armstrong had one catch on the night, but couldn't cash in on back-to-back passes to the corner of the endzone.
Teams aren't going to wait for Washington to score in the weeks to come, and that could mean a number of blowouts if the offense doesn't balance itself out. Step one is finding a go-to guy on the outside to make the contributions of Cooley and Davis that much more important.
Tight ends are luxuries as receivers, but that value is shot when they are the only viable option for a team that needs blockers as much as it needs receivers, especially with the top-tier pass-rushing teams on the schedule this year.
Last season, Davis showed his exceptional athleticism, hands, and ability to make plays after the catch to make the loss of Cooley hurt just a little less. In his 10 starts, Davis outproduced both Moss and Antwaan Randle El in the redzone with six touchdowns to their three. It was last year, but a good enough example of what he has to offer.
Week 1 against Dallas was not the best example of how effective the passing game can be, but Davis and Cooley were rarely on the field at the same time.
If the Shanahans are serious about improving the passing game without making a trade for Vincent Jackson, which has not been completely ruled out, they need to formulate some two tight end sets that give them full use of their weapons. With a quarterback like McNabb who has leaned on tight ends, it is not the worst idea for an offense that struggled in Week 1.
One week of offensive futility does not a season make, but what if it continues against Houston, and then St. Louis, Philadelphia, and beyond? Can the Redskins afford to wait things to click in the passing game, or give up whatever the Chargers would want for Jackson?
Next week's opponent, Houston, allowed San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis to erupt for 93 yards and three touchdowns in the lone meeting last season. 49ers quarterback Alex Smith is hardly the same caliber as McNabb, so the Redskins could have an advantage utilizing Cooley and their own Davis.
Both are capable of splitting out as receivers, or running from the end of the offensive line, so there is no excuse for not having them both on the field. It isn't as though Mike Sellers is bringing that much to the table in terms of blocking or receiving these days.
If it comes to a trade for Jackson, that could mean less touches for one of the tight ends. But if Jackson's suspension delays the trade potential long enough for offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to get Cooley and Davis on the field together, there may be no need to panic and bring in another player with the potential to be a headache, no matter how useful he may be in the short term.
Split them out wide, line them up tight, or run them out of the backfield. It isn't how the Redskins use Cooley and Davis, but just that they do. They are great receivers, which is exactly what the team needs. Until a better option comes along with someone stepping up on the outside, twin tight ends are the best Washington will get. And given how good these two can be, that isn't really a bad thing.