NAPA – Most veterans checked in to Raiders training camp on Thursday morning. Rookie receiver Amari Cooper has been here a few days.
He hasn’t taken a professional snap or attended an NFL practice in pads, but the Cooper hype machine keeps churning out praise.
Cooper secluded himself at the University of Alabama over the last six weeks and the Napa Valley Marriott since Sunday, sheltered from all the noise.
Cooper didn’t hear that Raiders legend Tim Brown said he’s going to be great “from Day 1.” He didn’t hear the Jerry Rice, the greatest receiver of all time, compare Cooper to Brown, a soon-to-be Hall of Famer.
The goal is to tune out that noise a focus on the task at hand.
“That’s what I try to do,” Cooper said.
He’s reminded of such praise by the press, but he said lofty praise doesn’t heap pressure on him. Pressure, it seems, is a thing of the past.
“I’ve felt pressure before, but I’ve grown as a person and as a player,” Cooper said. “Honestly, I don’t feel pressure anymore.”
Cooper enters this training camp as the top receiver despite his rookie status, and many inside the organization and out believe the No. 4 overall pick can be the best receiver drafted by the Raiders in decades.
Cooper can’t live up to crazy expectations right now, so he remains focused on the process. Steady improvement through camp is the end game, to be as ready and healthy as possible when results actually matter.
Building chemistry with quarterback Derek Carr is key, especially after the Raiders signal caller missed most of the offseason program with a finger injury.
Cooper texted Carr and set up a series of private workouts before heading back to Alabama, which allows the pair to start training camp with a solid foundation.
"It was important just to get some time with him,” Cooper said. “He hadn’t really been practicing when I first got to OTAs, so I wanted to build a rapport with him. It was beneficial because we got a couple of days to throw. He is very accurate with the football.”
The Raiders are expected to be better this season. That’s especially true on offense, where the team upgraded the offensive line and several skill positions. The Carr-Cooper connection will be vital to increased offensive production, but Cooper learned at Alabama that turnarounds are about more than just personnel. It’s about chemistry, something the Raiders will build during their stint in wine country.
“A lot of the times it isn’t the talent on the team because the talent is close, a lot of players are good, especially in the SEC. It’s all about leadership and the attitude of the team, that’s what separates the winning teams from the losing teams.”