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CLEVELAND — Amari Cooper has audited his stellar NFL resume, and the four-time Pro Bowl selection can confidently say he has still more to offer not only as a leader but also as a wide receiver.
After Browns mandatory minicamp concluded Thursday with a practice at FirstEnergy Stadium, Cooper delivered a clear message — he has yet to evolve into the best version of himself on the field.
“I look forward to doing that here,” he said. “I think the opportunity here is great.
“Hopefully as I continue to make plays when the games start rolling around, I get all those opportunities in the game to show that I’m that guy.”
Cooper, who turned 28 on Friday, is the most experienced player in Cleveland's receiving corps. Although Jakeem Grant Sr. is 29, Cooper has been in the league a year longer, entering it in 2015 when the Oakland Raiders drafted him fourth overall out of the University of Alabama. The 2022 season will be Cooper's eighth in the NFL.
“These guys look at me like an old guy,” he said.
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Since arriving in Cleveland in a March trade with the Dallas Cowboys, Cooper has been toiling with his third NFL team, and he acknowledged the Browns will receive more leadership from him than any of his previous employers. Guiding teammates, he said, ought to become increasingly natural with age and experience.
“It’s so easy to lead once you have that experience,” Cooper added, “because everything that these young guys are going through, you either went through it, or you saw somebody else who you were on the team with previously go through it, and you saw how the outcome was. So you can just [say], ‘Hey, this is how this is going to happen.’
“It’s funny, too, sometimes because a lot of the things that the young guys worry about, they really shouldn’t be worrying about, but ... you just have to let them go through it sometimes. But it’s been great. It’s been a great opportunity for me to be able to lead those guys, and I look forward to it.”
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Cooper is the first to admit he has a no-nonsense approach to football. Anthony Schwartz, a third-round pick last year, recently dropped a hint about the tone Cooper has established in the receivers' meeting room, explaining the respected veteran “sets that standard” and “we have to shut up and get our work done.”
The work begins off the field.
“[Cooper is] a really impressive worker in the classroom,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. “He's a pro’s pro. I don't think there's anything that we've challenged him with mentally that he doesn't just get immediately. His intelligence [and] football intelligence is very impressive.”
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Cooper is a dedicated student of the game. His habits won't cease to exist during the traditional NFL vacation time between mandatory minicamp and training camp. He expects to have Stefanski's system down pat by the first practice of training camp on July 27.
“We've installed everything. It's not that much to memorize and to perfect, but I can see how we can be very successful with the plays that we have,” Cooper said. “I think I'll master it in this six-week break that we have. I'm taking my iPad with me, and I'll be studying the whole time. I think by the time I come back for training camp, I'll have all the details ironed out.”
Cleveland Browns receiver Amari Cooper strives to constantly prove he can run routes with the best in the NFL
Cooper takes pride in translating the cerebral aspects of his craft to the field. It has contributed to him being widely considered one of the best route runners in the sport.
Dedicated to being the best route runner in the league 💯 pic.twitter.com/S9Qzj7VUWt
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) June 16, 2022
“I love practicing, like I love running routes,” he said. “That’s what I love to do. And every opportunity I get to show off my route running, to show off me beating a defensive back, I look forward to.
“I’m always looking forward to practice. I’m always looking forward to the routes I have on the script and visualizing how I can get open, so I can just show everybody who’s watching on the sideline, all the other receivers, all my teammates, coaches what I can do.”
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Cooper has shown a new group of quarterbacks his abilities this offseason. He has been happy about the timing and communication he's had with quarterback Deshaun Watson thus far.
“I can visualize how the offense will be run and how we can be explosive and how we can be dominant,” Cooper said.
The caveat is Watson will likely be suspended under the NFL's personal conduct policy. He faces 24 lawsuits from women accusing him of sexual misconduct or sexual assault during massage appointments. Watson's absence would push Jacoby Brissett into the starting quarterback role.
Either way, Cooper has been cast for a vital role while the Browns attempt to solve their passing-game misfortunes of 2021. He'll be counted on as an undisputed No. 1 receiver, a worthy designation considering he has eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving plateau in five of his seven professional seasons.
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In 2019, Cooper caught 79 passes on 119 targets for a career-high 1,189 yards and eight touchdowns with the Cowboys. He had a career-best 92 catches on 130 targets for 1,114 yards and five touchdowns in 2020. He caught 68 passes on 104 targets for 865 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
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“I talked to Amari,” rookie wide receiver Mike Woods said last month. “He’s a vet. He’s been doing this at a very high level, so I’m just excited to soak up the knowledge, get better every day and see where the chips fall.”
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Cooper has a similar attitude about the latest chapter of his career. The receiver market became habanero hot after the Browns struck a deal with the Cowboys on March 12 to trade a fifth-round pick and swap sixth-round choices for Cooper, who had also been dealt from the Raiders to the Cowboys earlier in his career.
In March 2020, Cooper signed a five-year, $100 million contract extension with the Cowboys, and they had been trying to trade him early this offseason because his $20 million salary for 2022 was scheduled to become guaranteed on March 20. The Browns later restructured his deal to convert most of the $20 million this year from base salary to signing bonus. He's under contract through the 2024 season.
Tyreek Hill (Miami Dolphins), Davante Adams (Las Vegas Raiders), Cooper Kupp (Los Angeles Rams), A.J. Brown (Philadelphia Eagles), Stefon Diggs (Buffalo Bills) and D.J. Moore (Carolina Panthers) secured new deals this offseason by either switching teams or agreeing to a contract extension. They are among the eight receivers who have a higher average annual salary than Cooper's $20 million, according to spotrac.com.
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Cooper, listed as 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, doesn't seem to be too concerned.
“I don’t really feel the need to compare myself to other receivers because I feel like everything a receiver should embody, I think that I can do,” Cooper said. “I can high point the ball. I can run great routes. I can create separation. I can win at the line of scrimmage. I can win at the top of a route. Everything that you need a wide receiver to do, I can do it. So there’s no need to compare myself to another guy. I can check all those boxes perfectly fine.
“I’m just focusing on the details. Whatever box that I didn’t check on a particular day at practice. I’ll give you an example. [Wednesday] I had a double move, I high pointed the ball, but I didn’t catch it. I did one thing right. I high-pointed the ball, but I’ve got to come down with it.”
Cooper: "Everything that you need a WR to do, I can do it." pic.twitter.com/IDE3HArSm1
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) June 16, 2022
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If Cooper's answers in interviews lead you to conclude he and Browns three-time Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb are kindred spirits, it's probably not far off.
Case in point: Cooper said he has already discovered Northeast Ohio suits his personality well.
“It’s definitely slower-paced than the place that I’m from, which is Miami,” he added. “It kind of reminds me of coming out of Miami as a 17 year old going to Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Everything was just a little bit slower, and all I had to do was focus on football, which is all I wanted to do.
“I didn’t put an emphasis on having fun in college. Although I did have fun, that wasn’t what I was there for, and that’s not what I’m here for. You know what I’m saying? I’m here to be a great player. I still want to accomplish a lot of things, and I feel like I can do that here.”
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Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Browns' Amari Cooper says he hasn't played best football yet