TEMPE, Ariz. — Admit it: You haven’t really thought about Jonathan Cooper lately.
And really, why should you?
The Arizona Cardinals’ right guard has, for all intents and purposes, gone through camp playing well enough to leave no doubt at the position. There have been no injuries, no comments from coaches aimed to fire him up, no drama.
Cooper will start Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, and that will be that.
“Yes, yes, what a relief it is,” Cooper said. “Just to be able to focus on me and not worry about anybody else.”
It’s a welcome change for a player who was drafted seventh overall in 2013 with the expectation of being the team’s left guard of both the present and future. Cooper was having a good rookie training camp until breaking his leg in the third preseason game against San Diego, with the injury costing him his first season.
He then dealt with turf toe the following camp, battling that and his ongoing recovery from the leg injury on the way to sitting for most of the season. Cooper would see the field, however, starting twice and helping the Cardinals post their two highest rushing totals of the season in wins over Kansas City and St. Louis, but a wrist injury sent him back to the sideline for the remainder of the year.
In March, the Cardinals went out and signed former Pro Bowler Mike Iupati to take over at left guard, moving Cooper to the right side of the line. This last offseason was spent learning that position, and all along Cooper maintained he felt good about the switch while acknowledging he had plenty of room to improve.
He feels the same way now, but noted the biggest thing is focusing on being positive along with the little things in his technique “that will take me to the edge of being the player I want to be.”
Cooper has improved, though, and there probably is no greater sign of that than the silence surrounding him.
“Yeah, I’ve actually stopped cursing a lot, so things are getting better,” offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Harold Goodwin said. The coach also said his expectations are high, so Cooper is not where he wants him to be — at least not yet — before adding, with a chuckle, that he’s never satisfied.
The offensive coordinator and right guard have that in common, though head coach Bruce Arians expressed plenty of confidence in the third-year pro, saying Cooper has been solid all camp.
The biggest difference in his game, actually?
“He’s just practicing,” Arians said. “He started over from scratch again, and this is basically his rookie year.”
Better late than never, right?
For Cooper, Sunday will represent a big step in a career that has gone a little sideways — albeit through little fault of his own. He said he’s ready to go now, following a bunch of setbacks, and is “optimistic this will be the season for me.”
Establishing himself as a consistent starter would go a long way toward Arizona’s offensive line being better than some around the league think it will be. But to his credit, Cooper said he doesn’t worry about questions some may have of him or his ability, with the only concern being that he and the rest of the players along the line do the best they can and earn each other’s trust.
But as it is often said, the best offensive line is one that is not talked about much, and for Cooper, at least, he seems to be well on his way to anonymity. Sunday, though, he will be announced as a Week 1 starter for the first time in his career, which is a milestone that took a while to reach.
Really, it’s been a long time coming.
“It has been,” he said.
- PFF: Arizona Cardinals’ projected O-line near bottom of NFL
- Sports Illustrated: Cardinals receive ‘C’ grade for offseason moves
- With a chip on his shoulder, Cardinals’ Justin Pugh eager to prove himself
- New line, who dis? Cardinals linemen ready to adjust to Sam Bradford
- Returning from knee injury, Cardinals’ D.J. Humphries eyes a better 2018