Raiders

Bulked-up Amari Cooper sets high bar: 'It’s not really that hard...'

Bulked-up Amari Cooper sets high bar: 'It’s not really that hard...'

Amari Cooper doesn't think much of 1,000-yard seasons. The Raiders receiver has two in as many years as a pro, and couldn't care less.

It didn’t matter to him as a rookie in 2015, even as the first Raider in 10 years to hit four figures. The milestone was met with a shrug again last year, and it certainly isn’t a primary goal heading into this season.

Cooper’s bar is set far higher than that.

"It’s not really that hard to get a 1,000 yards in a 16-game season,” Cooper said. “I’ve had a lot of games where I didn’t produce like I thought I should’ve. I definitely have a lot to improve on and I feel like I can make that improvement this year.”

Cooper sees growth potential in his first two seasons. The stats show the same thing. The 2015 No. 4 overall pick trailed off in both of his NFL campaigns.

He had 45 receptions for 665 yards in the 2015 season’s first half. He had 27 receptions for 405 yards after that. Cooper hauled in 52 passes for 787 yards through eight games of 2016, with 27 receptions for 405 yards in that season’s second half. Cooper admitted a foot injury impacted latter parts of his rookie year. He didn’t cite health concerns last year, though he dealt with back and shoulder issues later in the year. Cooper’s 1,153 yards ranked eighth last year, one of 25 receivers to cross the 1,000-yard plateau.

Cooper’s regular-season goal is 16 games of awesome. Remaining in top gear should produce some lofty totals, stats that should rank among the NFL’s elite. The Raiders added respected receiving tight end Jared Cook to the arsenal, which should make it harder to shade coverage toward Cooper.

The Alabama product must be physically ready to capitalize. He entered training camp noticeably stronger, adding seven pounds of muscle during the offseason.

“I definitely learned from the past two seasons,” Cooper said. “The season in the NFL is longer than the season in college. That’s one of the things I’ve learned, like how to take care of your body throughout the season and stuff like that.”

He’ll lose some of that weight here in Napa, but carrying added bulk could help him be more aggressive and quarterback-friendly in the pattern.

“When you’re a little bit more sturdy at route tops and you have that natural hand fighting with DBs, it helps you stay a little bit more in balance,” offensive coordinator Todd Downing said. “It certainly helps you come back to the ball and play through the ball stronger. Those are two areas that I can say I’ve seen a big difference with Amari. Holding his route path as you’re fighting down the field whether on vertical routes on a go or you’re trying to hold your stem on a slant. When you have a little bit more girth to you, a little bit more strength, it’s harder for the DBs to knock you off course.”

Cooper is bigger and stronger and just as fast. He has been excellent throughout the offseason program and early in camp – he’s banged up now, but his undisclosed ailment is considered minor – making tough downfield catches in traffic. His chemistry with quarterback Derek Carr might be stronger than ever. The stage is set for a monster year if all goes right. Cooper isn’t thinking that far ahead.

“My main focus this season is to take advantage of every opportunity that I have,” he said. “If I get the ball thrown to me 10 times in practice tomorrow, I want to catch 10 passes. I just want to maximize my opportunities.”

Irvin, Mack given a day off from Raiders practice

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USATSI

Irvin, Mack given a day off from Raiders practice

ALAMEDA – Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin were out at Raiders practice Wednesday for the stretching period. Both edge rushers left one-at-a-time during the individual period, which was open to the press, headed into the main building and did not return.

There was no perceived reaction, certainly no surprise, from the coaching staff or players on the field. Irvin and new defensive coordinator John Pagano were seen joking around on the field before practice began in earnest. 

Both Irvin and Mack were given a practice off. A Raiders official called it a day off/rest-type day that was not injury related. The Silver and Black typically practice in pads or shells on Wednesday, but were in jerseys and sweats in the interest of recovery.

This day off's timing did raise an eyebrow.

Wednesday marked the first practice Irvin has missed since training camp. Mack hasn’t missed one in months.

Mack and Irvin’s downtime also came a day after beloved defensive coordinator Ken Norton’s firing.

Several defensive players were upset about Norton's firing, but Mack and Irvin especially were among those loyal to Norton. Mack and Norton developed a bond after the coach was named defensive coordinator in 2015. Norton and Irvin go way back to their days together in Seattle. Irvin credits Norton for helping him get on the right path and stay there.

Neither player was happy Norton got the axe. Irvin made his displeasure clear, tweeting “BULLS***” shortly after news of Norton’s demise broke. Mack told ESPN “I like to keep my thoughts private.” Defensive stars declined comment Wednesday or didn't appear in the locker room when the media was present. 

It isn’t immediately clear if the non-injury related day off was related to Norton’s dismissal. Head coach Jack Del Rio won’t speak to the media again until Friday. New defensive coordinator John Pagano is scheduled to speak Thursday afternoon.

Del Rio addressed the media before Wednesday’s practice, and was asked how he’ll handle players unhappy with the in-season shake-up.

“I don’t try and 'handle' them,” Del Rio said. “I think the biggest thing is to understand the relationship, respect that, give him a little space and then at the end of the day, we’re going to get on with our work. But, I’m human. It wasn’t easy for me either.”

Del Rio: 'Nobody should feel comfortable,' following Norton firing

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Del Rio: 'Nobody should feel comfortable,' following Norton firing

ALAMEDA – Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio put out a statement Tuesday explaining why he fired defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.

He went into greater detail Wednesday afternoon, his first time facing the media since a change was made

Specifics will be discussed further down this story. We don’t, however, want to bury the lede.

Del Rio’s main message wasn’t about Norton. It applied to all in Silver and Black. This season has not met lofty expectations. That is unacceptable.

“I know one thing,” Del Rio said. “Nobody should feel comfortable, because what I’ve been watching is not good enough.”

Del Rio didn’t absolve himself from blame. Norton got fired, but everyone has played a part in this disappointing 4-6 record.

“It’s always shared,” Del Rio said. “A change was made, obviously. We all share in it, all of us, starting with me. It’s coaches and players. It’s a team game, and we’re all in it together. And nobody is coming to help us.”

The Raiders must look inward to start a prolonged winning streak they’ve shown little evidence they can create.

The seat will be warm under players and coaches alike, even if only one change was made. Expect further shakeup on the coaching staff after the season, if vast improvements don’t come down the stretch, possibly with several position coaches being shown the door. More than a few higher profile players could be cut or allowed to leave, especially on defense.

While Del Rio has taken more heat the past month than at any other time in his Raiders tenure, expect him to be around a longer term. He was given a contract extension in February, and has significant capitol built after changing the culture in Oakland and re-teaching this team how to win. One bad year, even if this season continues heading downhill, shouldn’t erase that.

Del Rio was looking to shake things up, and Norton was the obvious move. Experienced play caller John Pagano was on staff – he was Chargers defensive coordinator from 2012-2016 – and firing the popular Pagano’s style could create some new waves and looks that any offensive Norton would make an impact in the locker room and prove this story’s opening quote, that no one should feel comfortable.

Del Rio hopes firing Norton will be a shock to the defense’s system.

“I really felt like I needed to shake things up,” Del Rio said. “We couldn’t continue doing what we’ve been doing to this point. So I made the call. The whole idea is to change what we’re doing and make sure…what I’m looking for at the end of the day is for us to play fast on defense. We weren’t playing fast enough. We weren’t playing confident enough.”