Dallas Cowboys

Cooper wants to be the best WR in the NFL: ‘Even when I’m covered, I’m not covered.’

Much was said about Amari Cooper when he was traded from the Oakland Raiders to the Dallas Cowboys during the bye week six weeks ago for a 2019 first-round pick.

There were huge concerns from people outside the team’s headquarters at the Star in Frisco. Not only was too much supposedly given up, but also the player himself was questioned in regards in his commitment, passion, and abilities.

A lot of those people are now offering up apologies to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and praising Cooper after the spectacular show the former Alabama star has put on in Dallas, reminding everyone why the Raiders made him the fourth overall pick in 2015.

Cooper has posted the most receiving yards (642) and first downs (23), is tied for the most receiving touchdowns (six) and is tied for the seventh-most receptions (40) among all NFL receivers since coming over in the trade. He also leads the league with 11 first downs and 13 receptions on third downs during that time.

What’s most important is how he has transformed the Cowboys (8-5), leading them to a 5-1 record, including a five-game winning streak that has them going into Sunday’s game against the Indianapolis Colts one win away from clinching the NFC East title.

The Coup De Grace came in last Sunday’s 29-23 overtime victory against the Philadelphia Eagles when Cooper had 10 catches for a career-high 217 yards and touchdowns of 28, 75 and the walk-off, game-winner of 15 yards.

It earned Cooper his second NFC Offensive Player of the Week honor, marking his second such honor in the last three games while becoming the first Cowboys player to earn the award twice in the same season.

But the laid-back Cooper is seeking greater validation as the top receiver in the league alongside the likes of Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins, Atlanta’s Julio Jones, New York Giants’ Odell Beckham, Jr., or Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown.

“It is important for me to go out and earn that right,” Cooper said. “It feels great. I feel like that I what I am here for. I feel like I am capable of being that. I feel like that is who I am. It’s about showing it every week. The confidence is there. I always felt like I could be the best receiver in the league or amongst the best. It’s just about going out there and showing them.”

Cooper is certainly showing them.

And while many people always knew he had the talent, the surprise is that he is doing it so quickly in Dallas and with so much aplomb after being largely average for the first six weeks of the season with the Raiders.

Cooper had just 22 receptions for 280 yards and one touchdown in six games with Oakland in which was a continuation of a downward spiral after earning Pro Bowl honors his first two seasons in the league.

“I don’t know. I haven’t really done a deep dive into it,” Cooper said when asked about why he is performing so much better in Dallas than Oakland. “I guess when you get more targets, you have more opportunities to make plays.”

The Cowboys have made Cooper the focal point of the passing game. He had just 32 targets in six games with the Raiders. He has 53 targets in six games with the Cowboys.

Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis told reporters at the NFL owners meeting on Wednesday that Cooper wasn’t a good scheme fit for the west coast passing game employed by new coach Jon Gruden, though his late father Al Davis would have loved his deep ball ability.

“I think he would have loved Amari,” Davis said of his dad. “But it just didn’t work out in our system. In the future, we might be saying, ‘damn’.”

He didn’t say ‘damn’ when he saw Jones on Wednesday. All he could do was laugh.

“Results are what speak,” Davis told reporters.

The scheme difference is something Cooper brought up when he pointed out how the Cowboys throw the deep ball more than they did in Oakland as well as his ability to get on the same page with quarterback Dak Prescott so quickly.

“That was the emphasis, to get on the same page with Dak and to see what type of quarterback he was in terms of like the route he likes to throw, and all those things,” Cooper said. “I just think it suits my style of play. I think our games complement each other well as far as what he does at the quarterback position and what I do at wide receiver.

Cooper loves the way Prescott throws the deep ball.

“How he throws it. He puts it out there and lets you run up under it. I think that’s something I’m kind of good at so I like that,” he said. “I just like his delivery. Here, we put a lot of emphasis on throwing the deep ball. You look around the league, teams don’t really throw deep balls.”

But the idea that Cooper is a just a deep ball threat is ludicrous. He is a supremely talented route runner and tactician who quickly wins off the line of scrimmage on slants as well as go-routes because of his moves and the homework he does on his opponent.

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett is not surprised by Cooper’s performance and talent because they did their homework before the trade. They liked what they saw on tape and they got high recommendations from his former coaches at Alabama.

“But it’s not easy to do what he’s done coming in in the middle of the season to get himself acclimated into an offense and have the impact that he’s had,” Garrett said. “But he is just a really good football player. Physically he is a really good player. He doesn’t have any limitations on the routes that he can run and the things he can do out there. You can ask him to do anything.

“But maybe the thing that is most impressive to us is just how smart he is and how much of a football guy he is. Right from the outset, we gave him a lot of stuff to handle, never really had an issue about ‘I don’t know where to line up. What are you looking for on this.’ He is a very serious-minded guy. Football is important to him. You see that every day on how he prepares. It is certainly showing up on Sundays.”

The serious-minded stuff is also something that got misconstrued in Oakland, in addition to his laid-back demeanor as he was often criticized for lacking passion.

It was something that Davis shot down to reporters on Wednesday.

“You don’t show up to practice every day and do the things he’s doing and not care,” he said.

That’s the Cooper that Garrett has seen the last six weeks in Dallas as well as a player who knows the game and studies the game.

“Absolutely not only a high football IQ but loves the game and works very hard at it,” Garrett said. “He doesn’t talk a whole lot. There is not a lot of stuff that comes with him. He just comes to work every day, pays attention in meetings. Comes out to walk through, does his job, practices well and plays well. The guy that we have seen here seems to really love football and works very hard at it. And has been a very productive player for us.”

Cooper said he doesn’t know if people take his laid-back nature as a lack of passion but he said the proof is in his commitment and work.

“Of course it doesn’t mean I don’t care,” Cooper said when asked about his demeanor. “You can’t play football for 18 years and not have passion for the game. I think it’s ludicrous to have that assessment.”

He said you don’t need to scream for the ball and throw a tantrum on the sideline when the ball is not coming your way to show you care about the game, an unusual attitude for the Cowboys who are used to the fiery antics past receiver divas like Michael Irvin, Terrell Owens, and Dez Bryant.

Cooper showed patience and resolve early against the Eagles. He had just one catch for 27 yards in the first half and three catches for 54 yards after three quarters.

That was before he exploded for seven catches for 163 yards and three touchdowns in the fourth quarter and overtime. That included him prompting Prescott to change the route on the 75-yard score in the fourth quarter.

And while Cooper is low-key most of the time, he put his passion and excitement on full display following the game-winning touchdown in overtime.

After being mobbed by his teammates he screamed to the television cameras as he was walking off the field: “Even when I’m covered, I’m not covered.”

“I was just really excited,” Cooper explained softly. “Who doesn’t dream about catching the winning touchdown pass? And that’s how I truly feel. Why not say it? That is how I truly feel.”

And he meant what he said.

Is that passion enough for you?

Clarence E. Hill Jr. :@clarencehilljr
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