Table is set for Cooper to become Eagles' fourth receiver

Riley Cooper says the hardest part of his transition is learning the playbook.
Riley Cooper says the hardest part of his transition is learning the playbook.
Posted: August 12, 2010

BETHLEHEM - The wideout with the rock-star hair looks big enough to be a tight end.

"I tell him all the time - every time we eat, I'm like, 'Dude, you're eating more than me. After a while you're going to be over here with the tight ends,' " Eagles tight end Cornelius Ingram said yesterday, when asked about his friend and former Florida teammate, rookie Riley Cooper. "Take that [jersey No.] 14 off, get you an 80. You're going to be over here with us in the three-point stance."

Ingram goes 6-4, 250; Cooper is listed at 6-3, 222, so he might have quite a bit of eating to do before Ingram's prediction becomes reality.

Also, wideouts tend to move to tight end when they aren't really quick enough to play outside, and there, appearances deceive, or at least stereotypes do. People, even opponents, who look at Cooper and think "big, white possession receiver" can get a surprise. As every story written about Cooper notes, he was drafted by the Phillies and the Texas Rangers as an outfielder.

"He has pretty good speed. He has good enough speed to get deep on you," Eagles corner Joselio Hanson said yesterday. "You can't sleep on him on the deep route. Comes in and out of breaks pretty good, comes back to the ball well, a lot of good tricks going on."

Cooper, a fifth-round selection in a deep draft for receivers, made an impression the first day of live hitting, when he got in a fight with starting corner Ellis Hobbs. Hanson said defenders didn't quite know what to make of Cooper's physical style initially.

"He came off as a receiver that wanted to pummel the DBs," Hanson said. "We were like, 'Damn!' But, hey, good thing he's on my team. I hope when he gets in a game, he does that to the opposing team. He's tough, man. Hard to get around that big body."

"I gotta use my body to my advantage," Cooper said. "I know I'm a big receiver, a big target."

But maybe not quite as big of an eater as Ingram claims. Cooper was incredulous when told what Ingram said about him. Cooper said Ingram's eating prowess is legend.

"That boy, he can chow. He'll be over there with the tackles and guards; he's only about 10 pounds away," Cooper said.

Quarterback Kevin Kolb said what just about everyone said when asked their impression of Cooper - "I think people underestimate his speed a little bit. He's a big, athletic kid. I think he's going to suit us well, I really do."

Kolb knew Cooper came from one of the highest-profile college programs, where he won two national championships and roomed with quarterback/folk hero Tim Tebow. He was expecting someone at least a little impressed with himself, but Kolb said he hasn't found that to be the case.

"He's kind of quiet. You would think he'd be a little bit arrogant, but he's not. He's a little bit behind-the-scenes. You need some of those guys, you know? Once he gets out there and proves himself, I think everybody's going to know what he's about."

Cooper agreed that he "came in quiet," at least off the field. "Kind of just treated everyone with respect. I think after a while, the vets kind of warm up to you."

Cooper gets asked a lot about Tebow, and is protective of his ex-roomie. A few days ago, Cooper was asked if he had any good Tebow stories.

"There's a bunch, but I always tell people he needs to work on being a little more tidy around the house, so you can run with that," Cooper said. He said yesterday that Tebow and Kolb have very different quarterbacking styles but are similar as leaders.

Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said he, too, has been impressed with Cooper, but we're at a point in camp right now where Cooper and all the rookies are "swimming" just a bit, from the physical demands coupled with information overload.

"He's had an excellent camp so far. He's a big, strong, physical man. He's got really natural hands," Mornhinweg said. "He's right in the middle of that big learning curve. He's had some great days. Now his challenge is two things - technique and assignment, and playing at that high level consistently. All the [young] fellows are thinking a little too much right now."

When asked what is toughest for him about this transition, Cooper said: "New surroundings, new scheme, new playbook. I keep going back to that playbook, but it's big. You gotta learn that stuff. That's my biggest adjustment."

Cooper seemed puzzled yesterday over why reporters always ask him about special teams. By the regular season, he'll probably have figured that out - the Eagles' top three receivers, absent injury, are etched in stone: DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant, the guy who hasn't dropped a pass in camp.

Fourth receivers, no matter how promising, are mainly special-teams players. That's how they get on the field. Unlike many college stars, Cooper does have a background there.

"I played on kickoffs my freshman and sophomore years, every game, and my senior year, I played on kickoff returns. I'm familiar with it," he said.

The two big receivers Cooper might be fighting with for game-day activation status, Kelley Washington and Hank Baskett, are veteran special-teams standouts, which is something special-teams coordinator Bobby April clearly hopes Cooper will become.

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