The seventh-overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, could the Dallas Cowboys finally be the place where guard Jonathan Cooper thrives?
Right or wrong to do so, many people will point to the offensive line of the Dallas Cowboys when discussing the dynamic rookie season of running back Ezekiel Elliott. Without question, the Cowboys boast one of the elite units in that regard. But with that being said, there are going to be major changes on the offensive front heading into 2017.
The early assumption would be that it would be an easy move for the Cowboys to handle. With Ronald Leary departing in free agency, La’el Collins would slot in as the starting left guard. However, things took a more interesting turn with the retirement of Doug Free. As that came a reality, the Cowboys elected to move Collins to the right tackle spot to replace the aforementioned Free.
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That left them still with a hole at left guard. But through OTAs and now mandatory minicamp, all signs point to free-agent addition Jonathan Cooper winning the job. According to SportsDay Dallas’ Jon Machota, Cooper is “penciled in” as the starter at the position with training camp approaching.
If that decision on the depth chart were based entirely on draft pedigree, Cooper would be the easy choice. The Arizona Cardinals took him out of North Carolina with the No. 7 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. However, he’s since bounced around the league, unable to stick or have anything other than flashes of success.
While development has been an issue for Cooper, perhaps the biggest issue has been confidence. Injuries have been a recurring theme for the guard to this point in his career. And when on the field, he has seemed unable to trust his instincts and his body. That’s understandable when lower-body issues have become prevalent, but it’s still affected Cooper when fully healthy in terms of the mental yoke.
The hope, however, is that the confidence and quality of the Cowboys offensive line can remedy that. Per his NFL.com Draft Profile, Cooper was the clear-cut best guard in the draft, lauded for his talents and athleticism as both a run and pass blocker. Though injuries may have slowed him slightly, that mold of a player fits right into the Dallas way of life on the offensive front.
However, the question ultimately boils down to what he’s able to if he can both stay healthy and find the form that made him the seventh overall pick. According to his position on the depth chart and the talk out of Dallas, that seems possible. Training camp and the preseason will be pivotal, though, in further proving that.
With that said, the chance for Cooper to finally realize his potential is there. He’s in a positive situation, and playing in between Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick has a funny way of helping guards perform quite well. So, at minimum, the newcomer in Dallas has the chance to be this season’s reclamation project.