TEMPE, Ariz. — Jonathan Cooper knows this is his chance to show the Arizona Cardinals that he was worth being chosen as the No. 7 overall draft pick in 2013.
So far, it’s been a tough road in the NFL for the big guard from North Carolina.
After earning the starting spot at left guard in training camp, he broke his leg in a preseason game and missed his entire rookie season. He was back last year, but had a tough time regaining his old form.
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He appeared in 10 games but played only sparingly, and sat out four in a row before finally starting two games late in the season. Then a wrist injury kept him out of the final regular-season game and the playoff loss to Carolina.
”Man, definitely one of the tougher things I’ve had to deal with in my lifetime,” he said after the team’s OTA workout on Monday. ”But it’s a learning experience and I’m sure it will make this season that much better and more enjoyable and guarantee that I don’t take anything for granted.”
Watching so much from the sidelines was a jolt.
”I don’t think I lost confidence in myself,” he said, ”but it was a very difficult situation to deal with. There were some times where it was like, `Wow, where is that light at the end of the tunnel? When is all this rough patch going to be over?”
Cooper acknowledges he’s ”a little” irritated when he hears critics question his desire.
”I don’t know if they think I’m complacent or just happy to be here or whatever,” Cooper said, ”but at the end of the day I’m a competitor and I want to be successful. I have goals and I want to accomplish them.”
Getting to start those late-season games helped.
”That definitely kind of boosted my confidence and kind of reminded me that, `You’ll be all right, you’re here for a reason and it wasn’t a mistake and continue to do your work and you’ll be just fine,”’ he said.
With the offseason signing of free agent left guard Mike Iupati, Cooper was moved to the right side and seems firmly installed as the starter. He’s still learning the position.
”It’s been not quite as difficult of a transition as I would have imagined,” Cooper said, ”but I’ve still got a bunch of technique stuff to work on and continue to improve.”
He said his brain has long been programmed for playing left guard.
”It’s just muscle memory,” Cooper said, ”that you got so accustomed to doing it at one side that you have to be able to flip and do it at the other side.”
Although Cooper has yet to play in pads, he’s looked good to coach Bruce Arians so far.
”For playing soccer (not playing in pads), he’s doing really, really well,” Arians said. ”He looks like the athlete we knew we drafted and he’s got a smile on his face. He’s getting better but it’s hard to tell without pads.”
Cooper worked out in the offseason at O-line Performance, a training center specially designed for offensive linemen.
”That’s really helped me kind of change my body,” he said, ”and just feel a lot more confident in myself physically. I guess the real litmus test will be when we’re in pads, when we can really see how good I truly do feel. But right now I do feel really good.”