The Arizona Cardinals didn’t get a tackle, but they got the next best thing for their scheme: Jonathan Cooper. Getting the guard from North Carolina leads me to believe the Cardinals are going to run a zone-blocking scheme, exclusively.
Chance Warmack had been rated the top player at his position in the draft for months — a sure-fire, can’t-miss guard from Alabama that quite possibly could end up in the Hall of Fame. But over the last two weeks, Cooper climbed draft boards and by the time the Cards made their pick, surpassed Warmack as the guard of choice for many NFL teams, including Big Red.
Where Warmack has more “gut in his butt” than Cooper and is better suited for a power-blocking scheme, Cooper is more athletic and is the perfect guard for a team that is going to run more zone-blocking schemes.
Without getting too technical, power-schemes involve creating angles of impact to punch holes in defensive fronts. In a power-scheme, offensive lineman block down (inside) the line of scrimmage and uncovered lineman pull around those down blocks. In a gross simplification, power is the preferred attribute of choice for offensive lineman.
In a true zone scheme, lineman are not pulled. They have aiming points and work in tandem to get a hat-on-a-hat playside, while many times building a wall backside. In a zone scheme, quickness and athleticism are the coveted tools of the trade.
Jonathan Cooper was built to be in the zone scheme. He is freakishly athletic — maybe the most athletic guard to come out of the draft in the last decade. He will have few problems getting his head around and outside of a defensive tackle shaded on his outside shoulder (hooking a 3 technique) or getting to the second level on “ace-blocks” and “deuce-blocks” or cutting off the back-side and building a wall. He is the perfect animal for this type of scheme.
The intangibles make Cooper a no-brainer. He’s smart. Cooper made the Dean’s List three consecutive years at North Carolina and graduated with a degree in communications. He started for four years and comes from a strong family background, with parents that encouraged him to stay at North Carolina and get his degree. This kid doesn’t have many minuses.
Rashard Mendenhall is a true zone scheme running back. He has excellent vision and quick feet that are always underneath his frame, ready to make any cut when that crease presents itself. Many times that crease is backside and he is an excellent cut-back runner. He’s strong in the hole and runs with good pad level and has the speed to bounce it outside and get the edge.
The combination of Jonathan Cooper and Rashard Mendenhall make me believe Bruce Arians offense is going to be built on three primary running plays: the classic stretch-play, the tackle-zone (think Denver) and the inside-zone.
Something tells me the Cardinals are not going to finish in the bottom half of the league in rushing again.