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H-Back is dead. H-Back remains dead. And we have killed him.

That's a bit melodramatic, though per the Official Site:

It is [Chris Cooley's] second year in Al Saunders' offense, and he says he feels increasingly comfortable in the system.

After a stellar 2005 season as an H-back, Cooley went through an adjustment period last year as he transitioned to tight end in Saunders' offense.

"Early last year, it was frustrating because you had to go back and learn a whole new offense, and for me I really did make a transition from what was a traditional H-back [role] into a tight end. I'm really a tight end now, and that's the big difference."

Well that was abrupt. While there was little question that Al Saunders was changing-through-ownership the Redskins' offense familiar to us Gibbs' disciples (he invented the H-Back, afterall), I didn't think it would be so explicit. Chris Cooely essentially acknowledges that his former role as H-Back is gone, not even relegated to the back of the 700-page play book. We won't argue against effects, as his final half of 2006 was every bit as productive as any other moment of his career, despite playing with a new quarterback and no Clinton Portis (also a learning experience for Cooley). He improved dramatically as a downfield receiving threat, showing huge flashes against Carolina (66 yard reception) and New Orleans (44 yard reception). We won both games.

But Hogs Haven does wonder whether the H-Back is truly dead or if there's enough room in our voluminous playbook for both a traditional tight end and the hybrid brain child of Coach Gibbs.

The article also highlights some of the growing pains we suffered last year, which is always a cause for optimism heading into 2007, since the entire team has now had time to mesh under the Al Saunders system:

Cooley said he spent the recent mini-camp working on route-running skills. Saunders demands that receivers run pass routes as precise as possible, so that young quarterback Jason Campbell knows where they'll be on any given play.

"I'm really focusing in on techniques and running better routes," Cooley said. "I feel comfortable that I know the offense. I know what's going on, so I'm focusing on getting a little quicker and a little bit better out there."

We often are quick to point out that Jason Campbell has had different offensive coordinators for most of his football career, but forget to mention how a new offense has impacted other members of the team. As the Official Site notes, he had to work on his blocking skills when he first showed up, and then right after he became comfortable with this system (end of 2005) he was asked to change again, with slightly injurious results (that eventually ameliorated themselves). So just as Jason Campbell and others have had to adjust, so to has Cooley.

I doubt that Joe Gibbs is willing to delegate absolute control of his offense to Al Saunders, so it will be interesting to see how the Redskins use Cooley. I'll concede, per his own word, that he's going to be more of a traditional tight end than he was in '04-'05, though I suspect we'll see some interesting looks from this team, especially in the red zone. And by "interesting looks", I'm not talking about this.