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Jonathan Cooper shows resiliency in return to game action for Arizona Cardinals

GLENDALE, Ariz. — On the second play from scrimmage in his first game action since breaking a leg in last year’s preseason, Arizona Cardinals guard Jonathan Cooper got beat by Texans Pro Bowler J.J. Watt for a sack.

Welcome back to the NFL?

“Definitely not welcome back,” Cooper said of the play that happened in Arizona’s 32-0 win. “It was definitely a tough play to have, a second play of the game. But I think it showed resiliency just to be able to come back and not linger on that too long.”

Cooper added even after he left the game he spent time thinking about the mistakes he made and things he needed to work on, but noted part of being a good player is not only avoiding complacency, but focusing on what he did wrong in order to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

The second-year pro has had an up-and-down training camp. Early on there was excitement simply over his return to the field and ability to withstand contact. However, last weekend there was some concern over his progression, or lack of.

But in his most recent test Saturday, Cooper did well enough — at least from play three onward.

“I didn’t really get to see him that much,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “I know he gave up the first sack, from what I heard on the headset. We’ll just judge the tape when we see it.”

Chances are, Arians and the coaching staff will see a mixed bag. There were times throughout Cooper’s night, which saw him play the entire first half, where he showed the skills that made the Cardinals pick him seventh overall last season and earn the starting left guard spot early in camp. However, there were also moments where he struggled to hold his blocks or ended up on the ground, which is something, the coaching staff would rather not see.

“I felt pretty good,” Cooper said. “I was happy to be out there getting more comfortable. It’s game one; I’m the type of player who improves each week, even throughout the regular season I’ll continue to improve. So that’s my main goal, continue to see improvement and each day step-by-step work on something and hone my skills.”

There was one point late in the first quarter where running back Stepfan Taylor rolled up on Cooper’s leg from behind. The left guard went down — not unlike last preseason when he ended up being lost for the season — and no doubt there were some people holding their breath for a moment hoping the 24-year-old would get up.

He did, albeit with a bit of a limp, but was able to continue playing with what has been described as a toe issue. Given how his rookie campaign ended because of an injury, it had to be a good sign to see Cooper fight through the pain.

“They were saying, ‘go if you’ve got to go, if it hurts that bad,'” he said. “It was kind of one of those things where you had to check in with yourself, stomp on it a couple of times, be like ‘Am I going to collapse if I keep going,’ and I wasn’t so I could keep going.”

The hope is the toe issue is nothing serious, at least to the point where it would put the guard back on the shelf. Assuming he’s OK, Saturday can be looked at as just another step forward in his recovery and, hopefully, return to being the player everyone expects him to be.