ALAMEDA – Receiver Cliff Branch ranks among his generation’s best. The Raiders legend knows a thing or two about the position, even if few can match his world-class speed.
He loved Amari Cooper’s play at Alabama, and hoped the Heisman Trophy finalist would end up in silver and black. The Raiders had the No. 4 overall pick that year, so it was a possibility.
“When Amari was on the board and the Raiders were able to draft him, I got on my knees and begged Mark Davis,” Branch said on the Raiders Insider Podcast. “I said, ‘You’ve got to draft this kid.’ He said, ‘You’re going to get your wish.’”
The Raiders got Branch’s guy, in a move that proved fruitful right away. He exceeded 1,000 yards and was a Pro Bowler in consecutive seasons. His third season, however, hasn’t started well.
Cooper has just 12 catches for 110 yards in four games. He also leads the NFL with seven drops on just 19 catchable passes. Cooper’s issues belie great talent.
He’s in an early slump. Branch has an idea how Cooper can get out of it and find a productive rhythm.
“I would love to see the Raiders do some of the things they did with him at Alabama,” Branch said. “You have to get him away from just running slants. He’s a deep threat, and you have to give him two or three deep shots a game whether you come up with them or not. You have to put that pressure on the secondary.
“Amari Cooper can run ins, out, hooks, posts and corners. That’s what he did at Alabama. Right now, everybody’s sitting on the slant. You have to get away from it. He’s a great route runner, and we’ve got to use the whole tree in the passing game.”
Branch may have a point. According to analytics site Pro Football Focus, three of Cooper’s seven drops have come on slants. The site also reports that no other Raider has been targeted on a slant this season.
The Raiders believe Cooper will be fine. He has the right combination of talent, pride and work ethic, traits required to rebound well.
“We all believe in Amari to the utmost,” offensive coordinator Todd Downing said. “I think that he’s going to get going, just base on his hard work paying off, number one. Number two, when you play a game like this and a game plan like this, you’re able to kind of get, like I said earlier, to some of your bread and butter stuff that he might be comfortable with, that the quarterback is comfortable with. A lot of times, that leads to a little bit more success on just generic type routes.”
There are ways to get him going. Route variations are one thing. A fast start could be another.
“I think we can do a great job with allowing ‘Coop’ to be who he is,” said quarterback EJ Manuel, who will start Sunday at Baltimore. “There’s no pressure on him because we know he’s a great player. … We definitely want to get him rolling. Get his confidence rolling and everything like that and get him some touches early so we can make some plays.”