FRISCO, Texas – Amari Cooper‘s on-field persona was formed before he played his first game as a kid.
“I overheard one of my friends say, ‘If Amari scores, I bet he’s real happy and he’ll get real excited,’” Cooper said. “I just so happened to score, and since I heard him say that, I was like, ‘Nah, I’m not going to get really excited.’ And for some reason, that felt like the right thing to do. I been the same way since.”
In a league filled with diva wide receivers, Cooper is the anti-diva. He drives a nice BMW and dresses impeccably, but he thinks before he speaks. Emotions do not spill out of him. He is careful not to celebrate too much.
Slowly, the low-key Cooper has become more comfortable in expressing himself, coming from the disappointing end of his time with the Oakland Raiders to the high of a playoff run with the Dallas Cowboys that he hopes continues in Saturday’s divisional round at the Los Angeles Rams (8:15 p.m. ET, Fox).
“I used to feel like, ‘Why are those guys so excited if they know they’re great players,” Cooper said inside a quiet Cowboys locker room before afternoon meetings on Wednesday. “I mean that should be what they expect to go out and do. That’s why I never used to celebrate, because I expected to do that. I expect to do more, and if I scored a touchdown, I’d look at it like that’s not much. I can score three or four times. But recently, I had a change in views.
“A lot of guys go through ups and downs in their careers, and sometimes those downs are like horrific and they can really change you. A lot. And so when you go out there and do something like score a touchdown and have a good game, you appreciate it so much more when you’ve been through those valleys in life. I can see why guys really celebrate and actually appreciate the time and have fun in the moment. But I couldn’t before.”
— Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) November 22, 2018
“Nobody knew I was going to do it,” Cooper said, “but the guys are pretty smart, so I knew they would catch on eventually when I told them to line up.”
After one touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles, he paid homage to Terrell Owens standing on the star, spreading his arms wide.
“That was subconscious,” he said.
While there have been more emotions, there have been no negative triggers. In that signature game against the Eagles when Cooper caught 10 passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns, the closest he came to showing frustration was sagging his shoulders when Dak Prescott called for him to run another stop route.
“When I broke the huddle, I was kind of mad and I was like, ‘Dak, come on,’” Cooper said after the game. “And he was like, ‘Just run it, bro.’”
At the line of scrimmage, Prescott changed the route, and they connected for a touchdown.
But Cooper’s complaint did not rise above a “come on.”
Oh, he could demand the ball. He could call out the game plans. He could walk up and down the sideline gesturing wildly. During the week, he could complain to the coaches about a lack of opportunities. Maybe he could fire a ball at Prescott the way Antonio Brown reportedly did to Ben Roethlisberger going into the final week of the regular season.
Cooper does none of it.
“That’s Amari. Yeah, he’s always been the same way,” said E.J. Hilliard, his quarterback at Miami Northwestern during his senior year in high school. “I could probably count on one hand, maybe two times I saw him get emotional as far as showing his excitement. He’s like the opposite of a No. 1 star receiver like you would expect. You expect him to say, ‘I’m open, throw me the ball,’ but he was never like that.”
Well, not never. There was one time.
Hilliard remembers it was against Coral Gables. Northwestern was up three scores, so the game was well in hand; but after a third-and-long pass didn’t go Cooper’s way, he went to Hilliard.
“He was like, ‘Hey, I think I was open there. I don’t know, maybe I wasn’t in your progression or maybe there was some pressure. So, if we got a chance to go back to it again, just keep that reminder,’” Hilliard remembered.
That doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like Keyshawn Johnson’s book title, “Just Give Me The Damn Ball,” does it?
Colorful wide receivers dot the history of the Cowboys.
Drew Pearson, the Original No. 88, had a flare to his game. When Michael Irvin walked into a room, everybody knew The Playmaker was there. Dez Bryant had an oversize charisma that he carried on and off the field. For three seasons in Dallas, Owens might have topped them all.
Conversely, Cooper recently slipped out of the locker room unnoticed after he had a conversation with practice squad wide receiver Reggie Davis.
“He just wants to play football,” said Teddy Bridgewater, Cooper’s first quarterback at Miami Northwestern and now Drew Brees’ backup with the New Orleans Saints. “Shows up, and he’s not gonna make a scene or anything. He’s a grinder, and he’s serious about his craft.”
On Wednesday, Cooper stood on top of a riser in front of his locker. It wasn’t to draw attention to himself. It was to accommodate the crush of media on hand for the Cowboys’ playoff run.
“He just wants to play football. Shows up, and he’s not gonna make a scene or anything. He’s a grinder, and he’s serious about his craft.”
Saints QB Teddy Bridgewater, Cooper’s first QB in high school
“I don’t really have a shell,” Cooper said. “I’m really not as quiet as people think I am. I’m really not that quiet. But I don’t know, I would say I’m more observant.”
The acquisition of Cooper changed the Cowboys’ season. With a 3-4 record after a loss to Washington, the Cowboys gave up their 2019 first-round pick to the Raiders for Cooper. In nine regular-season games for Dallas, Cooper caught 53 passes for 725 yards and six touchdowns.
“Ultimately, what matters most is how you prepare and how you go play,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “Different players at every position have different personalities. Emmitt Smith was a very impactful player in this organization for a long time and not someone who was very vocal — each and every day kind of came and went to work, practiced and certainly played at a very high level. Been around a lot of different personalities, like we all have, and the biggest thing is you want guys to be themselves and go about it the right way.”
Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan was around Randy Moss for three seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. He called plays for the Detroit Lions when Calvin Johnson caught 122 passes for an NFL-record 1,964 yards in 2012; at 6-foot-5 and 237 pounds, Johnson had a presence.
“Calvin was just this massive guy,” Linehan said. “Calvin kind of spoke with his enormous physique. But Calvin, he was probably similar [to Cooper] in a lot of ways. Maybe a little quieter. You didn’t hear him coming, that type of thing. But so, hey, everybody is who they are.
“I love all the receivers I’ve been around and just appreciate their personalities, these elite-type players. There’s something about them that’s different. He’s real similar in a lot of ways.”
At 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, Cooper might have something of an average build, but not an average game.
“I tell people all the time, when he first got [to Miami Northwestern], this was when Percy Harvin had just left Florida, and I was like, ‘Man, this guy is gonna be the next Percy Harvin,’ because he was only like 5-8 when he first got there, but he could run,” Bridgewater said. “So, we ran spread offense, motions, jet sweeps. Came back the next year he was about 5-10, and it was like, ‘Hold on. I don’t know about Percy Harvin anymore.’ Then the next year he was like 6-foot, and it was like, ‘Man, this kid is like A.J. Green or Julio Jones.’
“So he’s a guy that continued to just grow physically and mentally, and it’s exciting to see him perform the way he is right now.”
Projecting Cooper’s nine-game stats over a full season, he would have produced on the field like an Irvin, Bryant or Owens did, with 94 receptions, 1,289 yards and 11 touchdowns. He will never become Irvin, Bryant or Owens in terms of personality and verve, but he’s getting there.
“Amari’s starting to open up a little bit,” Prescott said. “He’s starting to talk a little bit more. I don’t know if it’s winning these playoffs or what. We know that we need his leadership, him be a little bit more vocal or whatever it may be. He’s opening up.”
ESPN New Orleans Saints reporter Mike Triplett contributed.
A second breed of custom-fit football helmets is headed to the field in 2019
It’s beginning to look like the future of football helmets will be all about customized fits.
In 2017, Riddell, the leading helmet manufacturer, unveiled its Precision-Fit system, which uses digital scans of a player’s head to create a custom-fit version of the company’s SpeedFlex helmet. Now Schutt, Riddell’s chief competitor, has answered that by launching its own custom-fit helmet, the F7 UR1. (“You are one” with the helmet, get it?) The customized helmet was unveiled over the weekend at the annual American Football Coaches Association convention in San Antonio.
“We want to move players away from the idea of wearing a small, medium, or large helmet,” said Glenn Beckmann, Schutt’s director of marketing communications. “We want them to think of it like apparel or footwear, where they say, ‘That feels right.'”
The Schutt system, which was devised in conjunction with the body-mapping company Falcon Pursuit, differs from Riddell’s in several ways. While Riddell uses a hand-held scanner to create a digital avatar of the player’s head, Schutt is using a “fitting helmet” equipped with 10 sensors that come into physical contact with the player’s head. These sensors take thousands of measurements to create a pressure map of the player’s head, which is then used to create the custom-fit interior padding. The process, which according to Schutt can create 8.9 trillion different fits, is explained in greater detail in this video:
Beckmann said Schutt’s system, which will initially be targeted at the collegiate market, has several advantages over Riddell’s. “For one thing, when you take a scan [as Riddell does], the hair plays a big role in what the device is reading or seeing, and you have to account for that in your algorithms,” he said. “But our fitting helmet has full contact with the head, and those sensors pretty much eliminate that problem.”
In addition, while Riddell’s custom-fit helmets retail for $1,700 apiece, Beckmann said Schutt is planning on a price point of under $1,000, which should make the UR1 a more attractive option for small colleges and, eventually, high schools.
A Riddell spokesperson declined to comment on the new Schutt rollout, citing a company policy of not discussing competitors’ products.
For now, Schutt’s custom-fit system is only available for the F7 LTD helmet. That’s the latest version of the F7, the model with the two flex plates, which was introduced in 2017.
Schutt plans to have its sales force equipped with fitting helmets by the beginning of May, at which point sales reps will begin visiting schools and mapping players’ heads. The lag time from the head-mapping to the delivery of a custom-built helmet is about three weeks (similar to Riddell’s Precision-Fit). The goal is to have the F7 UR1 on the field by the start of the 2019 season.
The underlying goal of a customized fit, of course, is player safety. No helmet can eliminate the risk of head injuries, but a better-fitting helmet is usually a safer one. Riddell’s Precision-Fit SpeedFlex has performed well in that regard — it is currently ranked third in the helmet performance ratings prepared each year by the NFL and the players’ union. Schutt’s F7 LTD, which is the model on which the custom-fit UR1 will be based, is currently the top-ranked helmet in Virginia Tech’s respected helmet safety ratings, and Schutt is hoping the UR1 will receive a similarly impressive ranking when the new NFL test results are released this spring.
There’s no word yet about the two other primary helmet manufacturers, Vicis and Xenith, coming out with their own custom-fit systems, but it seems inevitable. Scott Rotier, who previously worked as an assistant equipment manager for the San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins and is now the head equipment manager with the Arizona Hotshots of the new Alliance of American Football, said his players generally liked the Riddell Precision-Fit SpeedFlex and that he expects more and more players will go with custom-fit helmets in the future.
“It used to be players didn’t want to change what they were used to wearing,” said Rotier. “But in the last few years, with all the news about concussions, now players have their relatives asking them what they’re wearing, their wives are asking, their kids are asking. So more of them are willing to change. And it’s all about the fit, because if a helmet doesn’t fit right, it’s not doing its job.”
Beckmann agreed: “We always say that the best helmet is the one that fits. We’d rather have a player in another manufacturer’s helmet if it fits better than ours.”
Paul Lukas loves it when something fits just right. If you like this column, you’ll probably like his Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook and sign up for his mailing list so you’ll always know when a new column has been posted. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, check out his Uni Watch merchandise, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.
Colts’ Marlon Mack delivers ‘body blows’ to wear down competition – Indianapolis Colts Blog
INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts coach Frank Reich likes to use a boxing analogy when it comes to his team’s ability to run the ball.
“I just think it’s like body blows,” Reich said. “I just think it’s blows to the midsection. It’s the constant pounding of that. I think it wears the other team down.”
Enter running back Marlon Mack.
Producing — and showing he’s a No. 1 back — is exactly what Mack did in last weekend’s wild-card playoff victory at Houston and throughout the regular season. He’s coming off a Colts team record of 148 yards rushing on 24 carries against a Texans defense that had not allowed a 100-yard rusher all season. Mack had runs of 29, 26 and 25 yards and a couple of video game-type juke moves against Houston players who wore down the more Mack and the rest of the Colts’ running backs ran by them in their 200-yard team performance on the ground.
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“He definitely had the long speed, but I definitely saw some make-you-miss ability,” Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni said. “It’s harder to do that if the holes aren’t big. When I have seen that the most is when the offensive line is really getting movement and really displacing the windows there for Marlon to have some room to make some guys miss.”
The same way the offensive line has managed to keep quarterback Andrew Luck relatively clean this season, that group also has done an exceptional job opening up running lanes. Ask any offensive lineman if they would rather impose their will in the running game or be on the defensive in pass protection, and most likely will say they prefer to run block, which suits Mack just fine.
Running behind the offensive line of center Ryan Kelly, guards Quenton Nelson and Mark Glowinski and tackles Anthony Castonzo and Braden Smith, the Colts had three games of least 200 yards rushing. Mack’s had five games, including the playoff game, of at least 100 yards rushing.
“It always starts up front,” Sirianni said. “Like I said to those guys, it was just, ‘We ride and die with our offensive line,’ and they were physical, they were mean, they were nasty, they knew what to do and they started everything out, and our tight ends blocked well. Our receivers were going in there and blocking — it truly is a full group effort when you run the ball like that.”
The other fact, according to Mack, is he has managed to stay healthy after injuring a hamstring in the preseason opener in August and then missing four games during the regular season. He rushed for 908 yards despite missing those four games.
Mack also has proved he can do more than use his speed to turn the corner. He’s more patient waiting for the play to develop, he can run between the tackles and he’s stopped a blitzing player with a solid block in pass protection on numerous occasions.
“He’s really matured as a running back,” Luck said. “He’s doing the little things really well, whether it’s in pass protection or setting up his blockers or toting the rock, taking care of the football. He’s turning into a complete back and he’s running hard … getting some extra yards. At the end of the game this past weekend, to bust a couple of those long ones — that really felt good. I think it was a testament certainly to him and also to the guys up front blocking.”
Saturday’s playoff game in Kansas City (4:35 p.m. ET, NBC) screams for the Colts to run the football. An effective running game will keep Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the high-scoring offense (35.3 points) on the sidelines. The Chiefs gave up 5.0 yards a carry and 132.1 yards a game, which were 31st and 27th in the NFL, respectively, during the regular season.
The Colts are aware of those stats, but they’re not basing their offensive game plan on them.
“If it’s running it for 200 [yards] or throwing it for 400 [yards], I am always going to say the same thing,” Reich said. “We are trying to score every time we touch the ball, and we are going to game plan and call the game in a way to score points. We are really not trying to think so much about, ‘Well let’s hold the ball and keep it from them.’ We want to run it — there’s no secret about that. That does keep them off the field, that would be great, but at the end of the day, the primary goal is score points.”
MMA obsession is toughening up the Chargers receivers – Los Angeles Chargers Blog
COSTA MESA, Calif. — A fan of mixed martial arts while growing up in Springfield, Massachusetts, Los Angeles Chargers receivers coach Phil McGeoghan uses a unique technique to help his players get separation from defensive backs: hand-to-hand combat.
“It’s something we’ve evolved with and developed over the years, and it’s led me to some really successful and accomplished MMA fighters,” McGeoghan said. “I can always pick their brain and get a technique or two that will help us in some close-quarter combat down in the red zone, or at the line of scrimmage in third-and-2 when you’re getting a little more aggressive reroutes at the top of the route — just understanding combat.”
Cris Cyborg, then the UFC women’s featherweight champion, visited the Chargers during training camp in August. The Chargers also have had former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz attend games.
— Phil McGeoghan (@PhilMcGeoghan) September 1, 2018
McGeoghan has been to the UFC Performance Institute in Las Vegas and plans to go again this summer.
“If I can pick out one or two things that makes sense, that’s usually all I need,” he said.
McGeoghan, 39, first started using these techniques with the help of trainer Marrese Crump while serving as the receivers coach at the University of South Florida in 2009.
“You have to get open in less than two seconds at times, and at most three seconds,” McGeoghan said. “So it’s all about quickly defeating press-man coverage.”
The techniques also led to an invention by McGeoghan while he served as the receivers coach for the Miami Dolphins in 2015.
Back then, McGeoghan used wristbands to try to protect his arms from injury. He eventually moved to padded gloves and developed modified mixed martial arts gloves to help teach receivers releases to get off press coverage.
Combat release gloves have helped train muscle memory and protect me from these killers. Had so many great players who inspired me to protect the ulnar styloid bone in the wrist. Player/Coach bond is 2nd to father/son in my opinion.Thanks and love to all the players I’ve coached. pic.twitter.com/LEUdbuZKaY
— Phil McGeoghan (@PhilMcGeoghan) August 10, 2018
McGeoghan said he has seen other receivers coaches warming players up with the product on game days.
“He came in with some new coaching techniques for us and I think [the wide receiver group] has all done a good job buying in,” Chargers veteran Keenan Allen said. “I think the room did a good job picking up on it and putting it out here [during] games.”
Count New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick among those impressed by the skill set of McGeoghan’s receivers group. Belichick will have to figure out a way to stop those players Sunday in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs.
“They’re a very effective group, both in their route running and their size — their ability to go up and get the ball,” Belichick told reporters this week. “And also run after catch. Allen is a phenomenal player. He has great awareness, body control and quickness, especially for his size. It’s an outstanding group.”
McGeoghan is in his first year serving as Chargers receivers coach after Nick Sirianni left to join the Indianapolis Colts as the team’s offensive coordinator.
McGeoghan has taken an already talented position group and made it better.
According to ESPN Stats & Information data, the Chargers’ top four receivers — Allen, Tyrell Williams, Mike Williams and Travis Benjamin — are fifth in the NFL in yards per reception (14), tied for seventh in receiving touchdowns (22), eighth in receiving yards (2,699) and ninth in receptions (193).
“He’s been in [the wide receivers’] shoes,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said about McGeoghan. “He’s been there and done that, and can relate to those guys really well.
“At the same time, he’s very demanding. He teaches fundamentals and techniques. He’s done a heck of a job with that [wide receiver] room to get the most out of what he has.”
So proud of the practice habits of these @Chargers WR’s. @darealmike_dub brought a little Wakey Sauce to @StubHub last night. Bottles of Wakey “sauce” available for purchase this fall lol! #wakeemup pic.twitter.com/UBlInceq9g
— Phil McGeoghan (@PhilMcGeoghan) August 19, 2018
One of McGeoghan’s projects was getting Mike Williams going. He did that by challenging the Clemson product early in the training camp to be great every day in practice, which is what Williams had said he wanted to do in the league.
“He was responsive and all of the credit goes to Mike,” McGeoghan said. “I’m not going to change. I’m going to be the same guy every day. I’m loyal to my players, but I’m also going to be loyal to the process of correcting young players. It’s important for me that young players get their habits developed the correct way so that they don’t form bad habits and end up not getting a second contract, getting traded or getting cut.”
McGeoghan said he’s pleased Williams is playing with a high level of confidence. He’s healthy, so that helps. After a so-so rookie season, Williams had a breakout second NFL season, totaling 43 receptions for 664 yards with 11 total touchdowns.
“It’s been a good room because we’ve been able to be honest with each other,” McGeoghan said. “I praise them when they deserve to be praised, and I correct them when they deserve to be corrected. We live in honesty, and it’s a consistency that we build every day.”
Playing against the Patriots is a homecoming of sorts for McGeoghan. While not a Patriots fan, McGeoghan said he respects the organization and what it has done for the community over the past two decades with its winning ways.
“I get the animosity, and at the end of the day people like to give you a hard time,” McGeoghan said. “And I like to give people a hard time sometimes. So when I come home to play the Patriots, I know what time it is. Some of my best friends in the world are Patriots fans, and they’ll be talking trash to me. … I’m a huge Red Sox fan and a huge Celtics fan, but football’s a little different story for me.”
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