NAPA, Calif. — Amari Cooper reported Friday to training camp about 7 pounds heavier than the weight at which he played last season.
And not a subtle 7, either.
The Raiders wide receiver, now at 217, is a television infomercial with a quarter-written script. His appearance is the “After” version of himself, but he seems disinterested in discussing the development in detail. Such is consistent with his underspoken personality; rather than say the results, he’d prefer to show them.
So far in camp, he has.
Cooper sold a double move Sunday to scorch cornerback Sean Smith on a deep Derek Carr pass. The added lean muscle seems not to have sacrificed his ability to separate. But the real upgrade in Cooper’s game entering his third NFL season is found in the nuanced aspects of his route-running, an upgrade the bulk helped him attain.
Offensive coordinator Todd Downing has noticed.
“I think at route tops, when you’re a little bit more sturdy at route tops and you have that natural hand-fighting with DBs, it helps you stay a little bit more balanced,” Downing said. “Certainly, it helps you come back to the ball and play through the ball stronger. Those are two areas that I can say I’ve seen a big difference with Amari.
“You know, holding his route path as you’re hand-fighting down the field, whether on vertical routes on a ‘go’ or when you’re trying to (execute) a slant, when you have a little bit more girth to you, a little more strength, it’s harder for DBs to throw you off course.”
After each season, coaches hold exit meetings with players.
During them, coaches recap the individual’s season, what they liked, what they didn’t. It is the NFL equivalent to an annual review in a more traditional workplace. Goals are established for what specific areas the team would like to see the player improve upon in the months ahead.
Gaining weight wasn’t explicitly one of them, Downing said, but it appears to have helped.
“That’s just his hard work and working with the strength staff,” Downing said. “For me, I just wanted him to be more consistent with his route-running and staying a little more quarterback-friendly at the top of his routes.”
Cooper expects not to be 217 pounds come Week 1.
Traditionally, he drops a few pounds over the course of camp, a common trend for players around the league. He is unsure if he’ll weigh more than 210, he said. As for how he managed to achieve bulk without sacrificing speed, well, he reflected upon his approach with understated simplicity.
“I just train my hardest,” Cooper said. “I just go out there to the gym and just work every day. When you do that, you’ll gain a lot of muscle.”
Maybe the 7-pound difference is that simple: Cooper trained hard.
Or perhaps, it’s part of the greater picture to his development.
He is a two-time Pro Bowler who is only 23. For context, safety Obi Melifonwu, the Raiders’ rookie second-round pick, is two months older. Cooper is still growing, still evolving. Each year, he learns more about his body, his game and how the two are connected. He then devotes his offseason to prepare his body accordingly. Cooper’s physical stature, then, may be the most visible manifestation of his rising maturity level in the league.
Last year, he totaled 83 receptions for 1,115 yards and five touchdowns.
As a rookie, he caught 72 passes for 1,070 yards and six scores.
“It’s not really that hard to get a 1,000 yards in a 16-game season,” Cooper said. “I’ve had a lot of games where I didn’t produce like I thought I should’ve. I definitely have a lot to improve on, and I feel like I can make that improvement this year. … My main focus this season is to take advantage of every opportunity that I have. If I get the ball thrown to me 10 times in practice, I want to catch 10 passes. I just want to maximize my opportunities.”
He is larger target for the opportunities that come.
Contact reporter Michael Gehlken at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @GehlkenNFL on Twitter.