ALAMEDA – Amari Cooper has a big game coming up. The Raiders receiver is set to make his regular-season debut Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, a true start to what many believe will be a productive NFL career.
Expectations are sky high for the No. 4 overall pick heading toward this career milestone, but it’s tough to tell if his pulse has picked up.
“I think he’s doing what he always does,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “He’ll just get himself ready to play, prepare himself and go compete and play hard. That’s all we expect of him, that’s all we want him to do. That’s the way he’s wired, anyways.”
Hey Jack, is there anything that has surprised you about Cooper over the last few months?
“Nope,” Del Rio said. Then he took a long pause, but never expanded on his one-word answer. “That was very Coop-like, wasn’t it?”
Sure was. Cooper is a reserved character inside and outside the public eye. His skills and his game? Truly dynamic. Cooper has been as good as advertised, making a quick transition to the professional game. He’s an excellent route runner with jaw-dropping change of direction. Just ask Patrick Peterson. The top-flight Arizona cornerback got twisted trying to cover Cooper on a big gain.
Physical skill and plays like that have many believing Cooper will be NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year. Cooper may not talk much, but he isn’t deaf. He knows production is assumed from his employers and his competition alike.
“Of course I hear (the rookie of the year talk). It’s hard not to,” Cooper said earlier this week. “But it’s not something I pay much attention to or take to heart. From my experience, things change from day to day. It’s just like in college with the Heisman Trophy race. New names come in each week and people have different opinions. They’re entitled to them, but I’m just focused on myself and helping this team win.”
Cooper must play well for the Raiders offense to function in top gear. Cooper was the Raiders’ No. 1 receiver shortly after commissioner Roger Goodell said his name on draft day. That hasn’t weighed him down. Cooper hasn’t been perfect this preseason, but seems willing to work and take coaching well.
Cooper is the anti-diva, the opposite of many receivers taken so high in the NFL draft. He’s an unassuming sort with a quiet confidence about him. Others expect him to do well. Cooper knows it will happen.
“I’m pretty confident that I can play at this level,” Cooper said. “I think my first NFL game will feel pretty much the same as they all do. At the end of the day, it’s just football. I have to be confident in my preparation and I have that, so I’m not worried about nerves or anything getting the best of me.”
A combination of temperament and experience has kept distraction at bay. He’s used to the spotlight after a career at the University of Alabama, a school constantly striving for a national championship. Cooper couldn’t sneeze without people taking notes, especially during a junior year where he was the first receiver to be Heisman Trophy finalist in a decade-plus.
All that has prepared Cooper for what comes next. The next chapter starts Sunday at O.co Coliseum, when the 21-year old can let his actions speak for themselves.
"He looks great. He doesn't look like a rookie, I'll tell you that," Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick told ESPN. "He looks like he's been here before."