TEMPE, Ariz. — Jonathan Cooper has kind of become the forgotten man on the Arizona Cardinals.
The team’s first round draft pick out of North Carolina in April, he was set to start for the team at left guard before a broken leg suffered in the team’s third preseason game against the San Diego Chargers.
The seventh overall selection, he was placed on injured reserve less than a week later, and has only been seen wheeling around the locker room on a scooter with his leg elevated and in a cast.
Wednesday, however, Cooper was sitting at his locker, with no scooter or cast to be found. The boot, he said, was removed in the last week or two, though it’s not officially gone for good.
“I try to use it as sparingly as possible,” he said. “But under certain circumstances I’ll wear it just to be safe.”
Not surprisingly, Cooper said it’s been “very difficult” only being able to watch his teammates, rather than play with them.
“Of course you’d like to be a part of all of this, especially with how well we’re doing, but you kind of learn to deal with it on the front end and just try to do the best you can later.”
Later is where there is plenty to look forward to for the 6-foot-2, 311-pound player.
Unlike some injuries, a broken leg is not the type that should impact Cooper’s game once it is finally healed. He says his progress has been coming along well, as he’s feeling much better than he was even a couple of weeks ago, when the boot was first removed.
“It felt great,” he said of what that felt like. “I was just happy to walk again, so that was the biggest thing — not being uneven with wearing a boot and all that, so that was great.”
Cooper has maintained a positive outlook during all of this, saying it was much more difficult to deal with early on when the injury first happened. Now, though, he says it is much easier to accept what happened and start preparing for next season.
And there’s not a doubt in his mind that he’ll be ready to go in 2014.
“Just week to week, the progress is so huge,” he said. “So now I feel like at that point in time I should be good to go.”
The Cardinals are undoubtedly banking on it. Cooper was a first round pick for a reason, and next season he’ll be expected to slide in and be the player the team thought it was drafting.
But Cooper says he can’t worry about that yet.
“I try to do week to week, just try to improve,” he said. “I guess that is exciting — I am excited to come back, but I know anticipation will kill me if I think about it too much.
“So I’m just trying to make sure I’m able to run and then do lateral movements and cuts and all that before I think about trying to block somebody.”
But when that time comes, Cooper says his time off may help him be a more effective player when he returns. Though he’d rather have never gotten hurt, there may be a bit of a silver lining to the dark cloud.
“I guess, you try to look at it glass half-full, I do get to kind of see what’s going on and maybe see the mistakes other people are making and try to add different tools and things to my arsenal that I didn’t have prior to that,” he said. “So it is good from that standpoint.”