TEMPE, Ariz. — As the Arizona Cardinals have continued to struggle in the running game, many wondered why Jonathan Cooper was not given a shot.
The seventh pick in the 2013 draft, the left guard, they believed, could be part of the solution. In fact, a “#FreeCooper” movement was even started on Twitter.
Though it’s doubtful anyone involved with the Cardinals’ decision-making was aware of the movement — or would even care, for that matter — Cooper got the most extensive playing time of his NFL career in Sunday’s 29-18 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
Cooper was in for 42 snaps, 40 of which came on offense, with the majority being at left guard.
“Coop, he did OK for his first outing,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said, pointing to his snap count. “He went caveman a few times, lost all his technique and just tried to fight. But that’s understandable.”
Arians said the game seemed to slow down for Cooper the more he played, and showed some “twitch” and “some power”, which they always thought he had but wanted to see.
He added it was not Cooper’s best performance, but ultimately there were enough positives to feel good coming out of the game.
Arizona GM Steve Keim, as a guest of Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Monday, called Cooper one of the few bright spots in an otherwise sub-par afternoon Sunday.
“Coop got a lot of playing time, knocked some rust off,” he said. “There were some things technically and with fundamentals, with footwork and the combination blocks where just patience and timing he was off a little bit.
“But I will tell you this: he finally looks like the guy we drafted in terms of quickness and movement. I mean, he looked like, compared to the four other offensive linemen we had out there, he looked like he was playing at a different speed.”
Keim, who complimented Cooper’s lateral quickness, speed and range, noted this won’t be the last we see of him for a while.
“I think you’ll see quite a bit more Coop in the next several weeks,” he said.
Some of that may be out of necessity. Arizona’s starting right guard, Paul Fanaika, suffered an ankle sprain Sunday and his status going forward is in question. If he’s out, the Cardinals will keep Cooper at left guard and move Ted Larsen, who had been filling that position, to the right side.
But though you can expect to see more Cooper in the coming games, either to get him more reps or because of injury, that does not mean he is ready to supplant anyone in the starting lineup.
Asked if Cooper performed well enough Sunday to warrant that kind of consideration, Arians was direct.
“Not yet,” he said. “Not in those 40 plays.”