Eagles' Cooper should be fine without DeSean

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Riley Cooper leaps for a pass during Eagles camp this week.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Riley Cooper leaps for a pass during Eagles camp this week.
Posted: August 01, 2014

DeSEAN JACKSON is gone, and the people who believe he is the most dangerous receiver in the history of the world are convinced the Eagles won't be able to survive without him.

There is genuine concern that his 82 catches and 1,332 receiving yards and nine touchdowns are gone, lost forever, never to be replaced.

There is genuine concern that Riley Cooper won't be able to figure out how tie his cleats this season without Jackson, let alone get open and catch a pass from Nick Foles.

With Jeremy Maclin missing the entire 2013 season with a torn ACL, Cooper moved into the starting lineup in his fourth pro season and had a breakout year, catching 47 passes, eight for touchdowns, and registering the third-best yards-per-catch average (17.7) in the league.

Of course, if you talk to the DeSeanites, they will tell you that all of Cooper's production was the result of the defensive attention being paid to Jackson on the other side.

When I first heard this, I went back and reviewed the All-22 video again, thinking maybe, in my old age, I had failed to notice that opposing defenses had moved all of their DBs and linebackers over to Jackson's side of the field and left everybody else, including Cooper, uncovered. But no.

What I saw was the same thing Chip Kelly saw: usually a single high safety, with the other safety down in the box to help deal with NFL rushing champ LeSean McCoy, and single man coverage on all of the Eagles' receivers, including Jackson.

"No one was getting help," Kelly said. "Riley was getting manned on his side. DeSean was getting manned on his side. Jason Avant was getting manned in the slot. Zach Ertz, or whoever was our tight end, was getting manned. The running back was getting manned.

"No one is going to play us in two-deep, because if you play us in two-deep, we can run the heck out of the ball. We had everybody as close to the line of scrimmage as possible [against us], and nobody was helping anybody. They were trying to stop the run game."

The 6-3, 230-pound Cooper will be the first to admit he's not the fastest wide receiver in the league. He ran a 4.52 40 before the Eagles took him in the fifth round of the 2010 draft, which pales in comparison to DeSean's 4.39.

But as you might have noticed, Kelly values size over blazing speed in a wide receiver. As the cornerbacks in the league continue to get bigger and more physical, he wants wide receivers like Cooper and 6-3, 212-pound second-round rookie Jordan Matthews, who can fight their way off the line of scrimmage against the Richard Shermans and Patrick Petersons and win contested battles for the football.

"The fact that he's a 230-pound receiver, it's tough to be really, truly physical and keep him pinned to the line of scrimmage," Kelly said of Cooper yesterday.

"Guys like Sherman and Peterson, they'll try to beat you up on the line of scrimmage. If you can't get off the line of scrimmage, you're done. But that's one of Riley's strengths. His ability to get off that stuff. And when the ball is up, you have to be able to go get it. Having a 6-4 guy that's 230 pounds, it helps."

Cooper is very careful not to disparage Jackson when asked about the suggestions that he couldn't have caught a cold last season without DeSean.

"DeSean Jackson is one of the most dynamic players in the NFL, hands down," said Cooper, who has missed the last couple of days of practice due to a minor foot injury. "There's stuff I've seen him do in practice, stuff I've seen him do in games, he's just so God-gifted. He's just so fast. He has some of the best hands, some of the best judgment on deep balls that I've ever seen. He's a very, very special player.

"But all of that about them always having someone over the top on DeSean, if anybody knows anything about the game and watches the game, they know we have the best running back in the league. They played a single high safety in the middle and manned up corner on wide receiver, and they put the strong safety in the box to stop [McCoy].

"I don't know exactly what percent [of man coverage] we got last year. But it was way over probably 60 percent."

The truth is, the team's new running back, Darren Sproles, probably is going to have a much bigger impact on how opposing teams defend the Eagles than Jackson did. If they elect to play as much man against the Eagles as teams did last year, it means they're going to have to cover Sproles with a linebacker or safety.

"He's one of the most shifty guys I've ever seen," Cooper said of Sproles. "And he can catch really well out of the backfield. That's a huge weapon we added."

Cooper got off to a slow start last season, catching just eight passes for 93 yards and one touchdown in the first five games. But things changed when Nick Foles replaced Michael Vick as the starting quarterback. Cooper quickly developed a chemistry with Foles that he didn't have with Vick.

In the Eagles' last 11 games, he had 39 receptions and seven touchdowns and averaged 18.9 yards per catch.

"I just went out there every game and tried to play my game and play as hard as I could," Cooper said. "Nick helped me out a bunch. He makes great decisions and he trusts his guys."

Cooper was the Eagles' most productive red-zone receiver with seven receptions in the zone, four for touchdowns. He had 15 third-down receptions, which was second on the team to Jackson's 18. His solid blocking also provided a big boost to the Eagles' No. 1-ranked rushing game.

A year ago at this time, many wondered whether Cooper would ever play another down for the Eagles. He found himself in the eye of an ugly storm when a video of him uttering a racial slur at a concert got out.

Cooper apologized about a hundred times, most of his teammates forgave him and life more or less went on.

"I haven't forgotten about it," Cooper said. "It will always be there. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about it, that I don't deal with it. I'm just trying to become the best person I can be."

And the best wide receiver he can be, with or without DeSean Jackson.

"I'm just trying to play super hard," he said. "The fans that really watch the game, they appreciate the blood, sweat and tears that I put into the game. They respect the effort and like the way I play the game, because I play hard."


Email: pdomo@aol.com

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