ASHBURN, Va. — Captain Chaos is at it again.
He's been wearing 25-year-old tight shorts and knee-high socks of varying colors to practice. He is sporting a mustache to go with his curly hair in an attempt to re-create a "North Dallas Forty" look, based on the movie he watched just before the start of training camp.
And, the other day, he mailed former teammate Christian Fauria a box labeled "nutrients," reviving a practical joke from last year's camp in which Fauria was mercilessly razzed for using such a sophisticated word to describe food.
Needless to say, Washington Redskins tight end Chris Cooley is into fun.
"You know, I love football as a game," said Cooley, a Utah State alum. "I don't want to say it's not important to me, but if I can't have a good time and be happy, I don't want to be here. It doesn't have to be goofing around — I can take it serious — but if it's not fun, if it's not something that I like and I can't make it into something that I like, then it's a miserable experience."
With Clinton Portis and Brandon Lloyd subdued by injuries, Cooley has surged into the lead as the most colorful character on the Redskins roster.
The happy-go-lucky fourth-year player will talk freely about just about anything:
His ex-cheerleader girlfriend ("I don't change at all with Christy; we have a blast.").
The dog he named George (after the "Of Mice and Men" character).
The origin of the nickname "Captain Chaos" (Cooley introduced himself that way at the coin flip before a game against St. Louis, having been dared to do so by Fauria).
And his other nickname, "Johnny White Guy," which was supposedly made up by Portis ("He got the credit for it, but it was mine.").
That's not all. Cooley will also yack about his YAC.
YAC can mean Yards After Catch or Yards After Contact, and Cooley was the best tight end in the NFL in both categories last year. He gained an average of 7.35 yards after catching the ball, and 4.1 of those yards came after getting hit, according to STATS LLC.
"I have big strong legs and I break tackles, but I don't really run someone over," Cooley said. "I'd love to say that I could."
Bigger numbers are expected from Cooley this year. He had 57 catches for 734 yards in 2006 — down from 71 receptions for 774 yards in 2005 — but last season was his first in assistant coach Al Saunders' offense. Now Cooley has had a full offseason to master the play book and work with quarterback Jason Campbell, who became the starter at midseason in 2006.
"He is used in the same vein as we used Tony Gonzalez in Kansas City," said Saunders, the former offensive coordinator with the Chiefs. "I expect Chris Cooley to be one of the dominant forces in what we do offensively."
Cooley's best games last season came in December, which is noteworthy given that he had long been counting down the days to the end of a 5-11 season. Losing is no fun for anyone, but especially for someone with a personality like Cooley's.
"It was horrible," he said. "We had a day count going from, like, 90 days. We'd come in and we'd go, like, '89 days left.' We were out of the playoffs with five games left. It's tough to come into work. And you do the best you can."
"I played my best five games when we were completely out of the playoffs. You keep coming in and going back to work and as much as you hate to say it, you're playing for yourself as well. It's not like I'm going to come to work and not care and play poorly."
For the past few years, Cooley's name has been mentioned during Pro Bowl voting. He was a third alternate last year, and he knows the top reason he wasn't any higher on the list.
"We can't win only five games if we want guys to go to the Pro Bowl," he said. "If we're a playoff team, we're probably have four or five Pro Bowl guys. Winning fixes everything."