GLENDALE, Ariz. — Jonathan Cooper has seemingly gone from one injury to another, with an uneven performance and a call-out from the head coach in between.
The Arizona Cardinals drafted the left guard seventh overall in 2013 and expected him to be the starter at that position for many years to come, but things haven’t at all gone according to plan.
And after missing the last couple weeks of training camp due to a turf toe injury he suffered in the preseason opener, Cooper has been unable to get some much-needed reps or respond to the challenges that head coach Bruce Arians has given him.
“That’s very difficult, but it’s a learning experience,” Cooper said after the team’s final training camp practice Friday, in which he once again sat out. “But it’s a learning experience. It’s definitely a humbling experience and I’ve just learned to keep my head up, keep fighting and keep working.
“You’re not going to be able to please everybody, but just continue to work and improve and I’ll get healthy at some point and be the player I know I can be.”
The sooner, the better. Not long ago, left guard seemed to be Cooper’s neighborhood; now, if he’s to win the job, he’ll have to not only get healthy, but earn it, as his time away has left him trailing veteran Ted Larsen on the depth chart.
“I came in day one wanting to earn a spot. I didn’t want anything given to me,” he said. “There’s nothing like a little hard work and proving that I’m a good player and I don’t mind a little competition.”
Arians said Friday that the coming days are important for Cooper if he is to be ready in time for the season opener on Sept. 8.
Cooper said it’s important he get more work in this preseason, if only to help him continue getting comfortable after missing all of last season.
Cooper said his health is a day-to-day proposition at this point, and Arians said the 24-year-old is a game-time decision for Sunday’s tilt with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Needless to say, Cooper would like to be out on the field for that one.
“It’s very important to me, just the morale booster, just to get things rolling into the season — just to kind of build up that confidence, get the reps and get against some live competition again,” he said. “I had to sit out the last game, and I would love to get the reps and build that confidence rolling into the season.”
Unfortunately, turf toe is the type of injury that tends to need a lot of time to heal. While Cooper said he’s close to returning, he admitted there are times and certain movements in which he feels pain — and though he’s not expecting to be 100-percent healthy before making his return, he also doesn’t want to hurt his team by rushing back before he’s ready.
“(I’m) waiting just to be a functional player on the field, just so I can not be a less-than-average player,” he said. “I want to get out there and be able to excel and do well with it. Just kind of just manage pain, deal with that, but still be a good player.”