ARIZONA CARDINALS

Sans limp, Arizona Cardinals guard Jonathan Cooper ‘playing much better’

Sep 30, 2014, 3:30 AM | Updated: 3:30 am

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TEMPE, Ariz. — First team reps have been hard to come by for Arizona Cardinals guard Jonathan Cooper.

However, an injury to starting right guard Paul Fanaika caused the team to shuffle its offensive line a bit in practice Monday, and while head coach Bruce Arians said he expects Fanaika to be fine by the time the team takes the field again Wednesday, he feels confident that Cooper would be ready to play well if called upon.

“He’s had two really good weeks of practice,” Arians said. “There’s very hardly any noticeable limp whatsoever, and he’s playing much better.”

Arians has often maintained that it will be difficult for Cooper to find his way back into the lineup unless an injury occurs, as the coaching staff has no desire to tinker with a position that tends to perform better when continuity is present.

Then again, if Cooper gets back to where he was before breaking his leg, the team may have no choice but to find snaps for him.

But Cooper doesn’t think he’s quite there yet.

“I feel like I still have work to do but I do see some improvements, but not quite where I want to be yet,” he said.

It’s been a long and bumpy road for the seventh overall selection in the 2013 draft. Penciled in as a starter at left guard almost from the moment the team nabbed him out of North Carolina, he did nothing but impress before losing his entire rookie season to a broken leg. Then, when he was finally starting to work his way back into form, he suffered a turf toe injury in the preseason opener this season.

Cooper then seemed to fall out of favor with Arians, and could only watch as veteran Ted Larsen earned the job that was once reserved for him.

He has no problem fighting for the job he wants, but admitted his career hasn’t exactly gone according to plan.

“I don’t know what I expected,” he said. “I know, prior to getting injured, I expected to come in and just play to the best of my ability. Now it’s kind of having a setback.

“My mindset is really just to focus on improving and not look at the hurdles, and just kind of continue to move forward and try to compete.”

And finally, possibly for the first time since before he was initially hurt as a rookie, Cooper’s health is no longer an issue. He said the turf toe being a thing of the past allows him to really push off of it and run, which offers him an opportunity to display the athleticism that led to the Cardinals using such a high pick on him.

Maybe more important than that, though, is the fact that he can finally focus on improving as a football player rather than rehabbing from or compensating for an injury.

“I feel like now that the kind of extra limp or whatever is out of the way, now it is really to hone in my skills and really focus on being a better technical player so I can compete,” he said.

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