FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Things haven’t unfolded the way guard Jonathan Cooper might have envisioned since the Arizona Cardinals made him the seventh overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft, but he isn’t running away from it.
Instead, as he arrives in town following Tuesday’s trade that delivered him and a second-round draft choice to the New England Patriots in exchange for defensive end Chandler Jones, he is embracing the chance to turn things around.
“For myself, I know there is a certain talent in me that I just have to put together. I hate to use the word potential, but there is potential there to be a great player. It’s just a matter of it kind of all coming together,” Cooper said in a conference call with reporters.
Cooper added that he isn’t motivated by external expectations, but instead, the internal process of being the best he can be as he joins “a great situation and structure” with the Patriots.
Injuries are one reason why Cooper didn’t emerge in Arizona, as he was off to a strong start as a rookie in 2013 before breaking his leg in the third preseason game, which landed him on season-ending injured reserve.
Cooper’s career has never truly got back on track after that injury, as Cardinals coach Bruce Arians twice picked less-heralded Ted Larsen to start over him. Cooper, who battled turf toe, hand/wrist and knee injures in 2014 and 2015 -- as well as the mental challenge of returning from a broken leg -- has started 11 games since the initial injury.
“It was definitely a learning experience,” he said of the broken leg. “I’m a firm believer that God has a plan for everybody. It happened and it was an unfortunate event, but now I’m here with the Patriots, and I have a great opportunity to transcend that event. It’s almost like redemption.”
Watching Cooper in the 2013 preseason, it was easy to see why he was so highly-touted coming out of North Carolina. He is extremely athletic for his size (6-foot-2, 311 pounds) and fits what the Patriots like from their guards in terms of pulling and being able to locate defenders up the field and deliver a powerful strike.
The thought process in New England is that returning offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia could be exactly what Cooper needs, as Scarnecchia’s track record in developing young linemen is well documented.
The well-spoken, articulate Cooper has already spoken with his new teammates about Scarnecchia.
“I have heard nothing but good things from him. Even coming in today with other players, they say that he’s such a great coach and he’s old school, and he’ll get on you a little bit, but that guys love him and you won’t have a better teacher than him,” said Cooper, who has long admired Pro Football Hall of Famer Dermontti Dawson because of his professional approach and cerebral style of play.