Cooper sees increased role at corner
A dime package, featuring six defensive backs, gives secondary players their best chance to get on the field.
Marcus Cooper had several of those opportunities for the Rutgers football team, but the senior cornerback still finds the most solace in that package.
With only two days before his final game at High Point Solutions Stadium, one thing Cooper has never changed in his five years with the Scarlet Knights is his assurance in the secondary.
“It gives me confidence out there. You have three or four guys out there that have your back,” Cooper said of the secondary’s depth. “You go out in a dime package, things like that, you have more defense on the field. It just gives you more security when you’re out there.”
The Bloomfield (Conn.) High School product began his Rutgers career behind at wide receiver, where he faced current NFL cornerbacks Jason McCourty, Devin McCourty and Brandon Bing in practice.
Even without them, Cooper still had to fight his whole career.
He played two games as a redshirt freshman, six as a sophomore and nine last year as a junior, his second season as a full-time cornerback. He officially started two games for Rutgers, and neither came this season.
But a starting role has not mattered. Even though classmate Brandon Jones has started in his place, they still receive relatively equal playing time.
Cooper and Jones competed in training camp with a greater goal to push each other to improve with the knowledge both would play.
“Training camp, you’re competing against each other just to push each other,” Cooper said. “We don’t take it as much as a competition with the season now. We just try to make each other better.”
Rutgers’ surplus in the secondary leaves only three underclassmen in the defensive backfield’s two-deep.
That leaves several younger players fighting to get near the top of the Knights’ depth chart. Senior safety Mason Robinson said they can learn a lot from Cooper’s example.
“Some of the guys, they’ve just been waiting for their chance,” Robinson said. “They’ve just been watching and learning and soaking it all and taking it and running with it.”
Robinson also entered the program on the offensive side of the ball. He was a running back at Somerville (N.J.) High School before converting to wideout in 2009 and then to cornerback last season.
Robinson suffered a season-ending knee injury in last year’s season opener against North Carolina Central. Despite six years of eligibility, he knows how fast opportunity can slip by.
He also sees how well Cooper and Jones utilized it.
“Opportunity plus preparation equals success, and I think they were just prepared,” Robinson said. “They finally got the opportunity last year. They had a pretty good season last year.”
Cooper registered 32 tackles this season as an active player in run defense, along with an interception.
The statistics are modest, but head coach Kyle Flood sees much more in players like Cooper.
It is why he wants to honor those players right before Thursday’s kickoff against Louisville.
“I do think it’s important to do because these players and these families,” Flood said. “They pour a lot of their lives into Rutgers football for four or five years, and I think they deserve that moment out there on the field to be recognized.”
Despite Cooper’s lack of shining moments this season — he was on the wrong end of a 13-yard touchdown Saturday at Pittsburgh — those opportunities only made him better, he said.
“It’s a great learning facility for me going with established guys like that who have a track record,” Cooper said. “So I was able to just learn from the best.”
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