FOXBORO -- Jonathan Cooper stood in silence as he pondered the question: How is it that he kept from feeling badly for himself after suffering a foot injury early in training camp?
A fourth-year guard who was acquired by the Patriots this offseason in a trade with the Cardinals, Cooper was carted off the field during the first weekend of camp, just as he was hoping to build upon the positive impression he had already made on his new club. He remained on the active 53-man roster as he recovered, but he was ruled inactive for all four regular-season games, and this week marks the first series of practices in which he has been a full participant in Patriots workouts.
Now healthy and taking on a full workload, thinking back to the day he was injured doesn't bother Cooper.
"I think it's just one of those things where you just know you gotta continue to work and realize that control what you can control," he said Thursday. "That's one of the biggest things that I've learned over my career. These circumstances, they happen for a reason. Just continue to work and improve, and when I'm called upon, just be ready."
Cooper is no stranger to working his way back from injury. As a rookie, after being drafted out of North Carolina by the Cardinals with the No. 7 overall pick in 2013, Cooper broke his leg during the preseason and was placed on injured reserve. He came back to play in 24 games over the course of the last two seasons, making 11 starts in that span, and leaving an impression on his Cardinals teammates as a physical specimen on the interior of the offensive line.
The Patriots added depth to their offensive line by trading for Cooper and a second-round pick when they sent Chandler Jones to Arizona back in March. Initially, Cooper impressed enough that he was consistently seen practicing with what would be considered the first-team offensive line, usually at the right guard spot opposite rookie Joe Thuney at left guard.
After he was injured, Cooper knew he had to work harder on the mental side of the game in order to perform the way that head coach Bill Belichick and offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia expected upon his return.
"I think I've come a long way," Cooper said. "It's one of tthose things where they say, 'Don't let what you can't do limit what you can do.' And so that's kind of been my motto. Everything that I can do, every aspect of improvement that I can do, I've been trying my best to do it, and I feel like I have come a long way."
It became second nature for Cooper to stay at Gillette Stadium for extra treatment or additional film work. Even if he wasn't able to play, he knew that if he could continue to improve by doing everything possible off the field, he would have a chance to earn a role.
It's unclear as to whether or not he'll play when the Patriots take on the Browns this weekend. Second-year guard Shaq Mason has taken the starting job at right guard and Thuney has been a fixture at left guard.
Whenever Patriots coaches do ask Cooper to get on the line and block in a game situation, though, he'll be more than happy to do it. He's been waiting.
"I'll be excited when I do," he said. "I'll definitely be excited when I do."