Healthy 'rookie season' Cooper's goal

June, 24, 2014
Jun 24
9:00
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Jonathan Cooper's stats may say he's a rookie. His experience may show he's a rookie. But don't call Jonathan Cooper a rookie.

Cooper, who missed all of his rookie season with a broken leg suffered in the Arizona Cardinals' third preseason game, doesn't want the label.

"I don't care what anybody says, I don't feel like a rookie," Cooper said. "I know I missed the season or whatever. They say everybody's a rookie until three games into the season, so from that standpoint I feel like I'm a rookie but beyond that, no sir."

Jonathan Cooper
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsJonathan Cooper missed his entire rookie season with a leg injury suffered during the preseason.
Cooper has been marching toward his non-rookie rookie season with a veteran's fury since he went down against the San Diego Chargers last August during a preseason game at University of Phoenix Stadium. He's not back to being the same Cooper the Cardinals drafted, but he's as close as he's been.

The seventh overall pick a year ago couldn't quantitatively say how close he is to being 100 percent, but Cooper believes he'll be at full strength come July 26 when Arizona holds its first training camp practice.

"I think I have progressed quite a bit but not quite game ready," Cooper said. "I've come out here and I've done everything they've asked me to do rehab wise and lifting wise and on the field to the best of my ability.

"But my performance isn't quite where it needs to be for Game 1."

There's still room for improvement physically, Cooper said. There's still a lot of rust to knock off his 6-foot-2, 312-pound frame. But the majority of his rehab has come above the shoulders. He's had to grow comfortable again leaning on defensive linemen and has tried to keep the notion that he won't re-injure the leg at the forefront of his thoughts.

"I remember when I wasn't able to walk," Cooper said. "Just being able to run around and I remember being nervous about leaning on these defensive linemen. I've been able to do it, day-by-day proving to myself that I'll be fine."

Cooper's progress has been noticed by the Cardinals, but they are still aware of the road ahead of him.

"Coop's still got a ways to go," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "His recovery is not total yet and it's obvious. He's not the athlete that he was last year at this time. I wouldn't expect him to be. He still has plenty of time to get there. When you really look back, he had 15 practices and two games as a Cardinal. He is a first-round draft choice but he's far from a finished product."

For the next five weeks, Cooper will try to become that finished product. He'll balance resting his body for the long haul of the season with rehabbing his leg back to 100 percent.

Off the field and in the classroom, Cooper's not a rookie. On the field, however, he's a year behind but he's working as hard as any first-year player in the league to get back to where he was and where he should be.

"Rehabbing -- that's pretty much what I got on my agenda," Cooper said. "(I'll) be studying all that but just give my body a little bit of a break, otherwise just lifting and rehabbing."

Josh Weinfuss

ESPN Arizona Cardinals reporter

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