ALAMEDA – Amari Cooper took one step forward before slanting in. The Raiders receiver caught Derek Carr’s pass at the Tennessee 6-yard line and was quickly spun with an alligator roll.
He did not, however, fall prey. Cooper braced himself with the ball and kept on going. He absorbed another blow, turned his back to contact and began pushing toward the goal line. Sledding proving tough but he inched forward, that is, until the bulldozers came. Kelechi Osemele and Gabe Jackson pushed a massive pile into the end zone.
That was the season’s opening drive, which ended in the Raiders’ first touchdown. The Raiders sideline was jacked.
“Amari, he’s got a lot of desire. He has a lot of talent,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “He’s working really hard, wants to have a great year. I think he stayed up and made a great move there toward the end zone. He got a little bit of help from his teammates.”
Many point to that play as a sign of increased physicality created by improved size and strength. That may help him in those moments, or when high-pointing a ball or battling for position downfield or getting off the line of scrimmage.
That will be a weapon. It won’t be his trademark.
“He definitely brings a certain physicality,” Del Rio said. “I think ‘Coop’ is going to be known more for his ability to run and separate, not so much running people over.”
Cooper’s main goal this season is to start fast for the third straight year, and finish strong for the first time. He has been slowed late in seasons, there’s no secret about that.
In-game consistency’s also being sought, with room for improvement after 2017’s opening game. He got his hands on the ball three times inside the opposing 10 on the Raiders’ third series and could not secure possession. No pass was perfect – the first was high, the second might've been on the wrong shoulder and the third was deflected – but Cooper would say he should’ve had all three.
Overall he had five receptions for 62 yards and a touchdown on a team-high 12 targets. He’ll expect more efficiency in future games.
"My only goal is to take advantage of all my opportunities,” Cooper said after a 26-16 win over Tennessee. “I didn’t really do that today. I have to improve. I have to move forward."
Cooper’s bar is incredibly high, and is willing to work toward improvement.
“Everybody fits into the same category as Amari,” offensive coordinator Todd Downing said. “We expect improvement every time he hits the field. I think he would own up to things he needs to do a little better this time, but he had a good start. He certainly made a play early on to get the juices flowing on the sidelines. We’re expecting good things from him.”
That could start Sunday against the New York Jets, a team that prefers playing man coverage. Some receivers consider that a gauntlet.
“When someone is playing you in man coverage, they’re basically saying that guy’s better than you,” Cooper said. “That’s why a lot of receivers feed off of that.”
Count Cooper among them. He was certainly motivated to be a more physical receiver and frequent red zone target who works to get open against any strategy, in any situation.
“I just feel comfortable throwing him any route, whether it’s him coming in the middle, on the outside, deep, short,” Carr said. “I think that he’s worked his tail off in proving to myself that he can really do it all.”