Amari Cooper’s second season has started well. The receiver has made a great impact on the Raiders’ 4-1 start, showing improvement over a year ago. Most relevant numbers are up through five games, including yards per game, yards per reception and average yards after the catch. His drop rate is also way down.
That’s no coincidence. Cooper put significant effort into improving his game. He focused on technical work and getting his body ready for a 16-game grind.
There is, however, that pesky touchdown total. It’s not that Cooper only has one. He’s not selfish that way. He believes he could have more with better execution.
That was the case in a victory over San Diego, where he struggled to get both feet down on a pair of would-be touchdown catches ruled incomplete.
It seems Cooper has a new project.
“That’s the emphasis for me this week, to try to drag my foot instead of tap it because my momentum carries my second foot out of bounds,” Cooper said. “I need to work on dragging it.”
The Raiders prefer their receivers drag feet near the boundary over tapping toes. Cooper, and Michael Crabtree for that matter, were toe tappers. That’s a solid strategy especially in college, when a receiver just one foot in bounds counts as a completion.
“We’re a drag team, but sometime habits are hard to break,” offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. “So he’s going to continue to work on it. I think ‘Crab’ alluded to it as well. You’ve done something your whole life. While that has merit too, our philosophy is drag. He’s doing a terrific job of working on it, week in and week out. He did it last year too. That’s a (next-level) skill. You just have to continue to work on to stay on top of.”
The Raiders don’t worry much about Cooper’s flaws. His motivation to improve is internal, and they know his grind never stops.
“We all know people in life that don’t see where they need to improve or don’t want to look at it,” Musgrave said. “Amari is one of those people that is very critical of himself and is always striving to get better each and every week.”
Improving his sideline work will help make his game iron clad, just as work on making easy catches added consistency to someone used to making spectacular look simple.
Cooper, however, believes his greatest strides have been made between the ears.
“I’m a smarter player,” Cooper said. “I feel like I know what defensive backs are going to do before they do it. I know I’m able to read the defenses better.”
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr says his communication with Cooper has improved, especially when discussing strategy and in-game adjustments. Cooper is a confident player, armed with knowledge that a rookie season he considered a minor disappointment was worthy of acclaim.
“With Amari being able to go to the Pro Bowl last year (after) playing half the year hurt, that’s a lot of confidence for him,” Carr said. To say, ‘Wow, I didn’t maybe have my best at all times, but I can still make it there.’ I would assume that that would give him a lot of confidence.”