NAPA – Raiders rookie receiver Amari Cooper doesn’t get nervous before football games. He’s played on some big stages at the University of Alabama, including a BCS national championship game. He stayed cool then, and can certainly manage an exhibition game where the result doesn’t count.
The stakes aren’t high, but Friday’s preseason opener is a milestone of sorts. It’s the first time this year’s No. 4 overall draft pick suits up in an NFL uniform. It won’t shake his focus.
“I’ve always been all business,” Cooper said after Wednesday’s practice. “Of course I want to go out there and play an excellent game. There might be some mistakes, but I’ll try and deal with them if they come.”
[REWIND: Cooper: 'I don't feel pressure anymore']
Cooper hasn’t been perfect in this training camp. That’s expected from a rookie this early in his pro career. He isn’t right on every route. He’s dropped some passes and coughed up receptions, including one punched out by cornerback Keith McGill on Wednesday morning.
His talent is unmistakable, with smooth route running and speed out of his breaks that illustrate two things: 1) This kid is NFL ready 2) Cooper has a high ceiling if he continues to develop as expected.
Cooper admits that the NFL transition hasn’t been completely smooth.
“It’s a bit harder (than expected),” Cooper said. “Guys are better and much smarter on the defensive side of the ball. You can’t keep beating people the same way. They adjust. You have to bring it every day and use moves you haven’t shown before.”
Receivers coach Rob Moore has pressed Cooper to learn and try new methods of getting open and making plays every day, “so I can add it to my arsenal.” He’s borrowing from veteran Michael Crabtree, an expert at getting open against tough competition.
Cooper isn’t fully weaponized yet. That takes time. But Cooper should be ready for real games with a preseason’s experience.
“The guy gets better at something every day,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “Whether it’s a step here on his route, you know, there’s so much in the NFL that goes on at the line of scrimmage. In college, you’re just running by guys. And so he’s gotten so much better and so much growth in just that area. Whatever it is, there’s little things he’s getting better at.”