THE FIRST THING you notice about Eagles rookie receiver Riley Cooper - well, maybe the second, after the hair that flows out the back of his helmet - is his size.
I know that big receivers are a rage in the NFL, but this dude is big - like tight-end big.
At 6-4 and 220 to 225 pounds, Cooper sizes up favorably with the current tight ends on the roster, Brent Celek, Cornelius Ingram and Clay Harbor.
It's not a stretch to think that, at some point, one of his coaches considered having Cooper gain 10 to 15 pounds and putting him at the end of the line of scrimmage.
But those coaches obviously were smart enough to recognize that in addition to his size, Cooper had speed. Not DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin speed, but enough to make him a valuable weapon as a wideout.
"I can run a little bit, so I guess that probably was the thing that kept me from the tight-end spot," said Cooper, who played in 51 games and made 28 starts at the University of Florida.
Good hands, good speed and great size - the Eagles are solid at wide receiver with Jackson, Maclin and Jason Avant, but none of those guys is taller than 6 feet.
That's why Cooper, who was drafted in the fifth round (159th overall), has an opportunity to make a favorable impression with the Eagles' coaches.
The only other receiver on the roster with Cooper's combination of attributes is the recently reacquired Hank Baskett, who is 6-4 and 220.
"It's definitely a good situation for me coming in here," said Cooper, who caught 81 passes for 1,496 yards with 18 touchdowns for the Gators. "There are some good veterans ahead of me, so there are good people to learn from.
"I'm in a good spot, and I just want to take advantage of it."
Coming off the field at the NovaCare Complex yesterday after an unusually hot and muggy May day, Cooper asked whether it always is this hot in Philadelphia?
That was funny from a guy who grew up in Clearwater, Fla.
Interestingly, Cooper might have found out about Philadelphia a bit earlier, had he signed with the Phillies after he was drafted out of Central Catholic High School in the 15th round in 2006.
In 2009, the Texas Rangers selected Cooper, who also played baseball at Florida. Cooper reportedly had a $250,000 deal waiting to be signed after football season.
But after making 51 catches for a team-high 961 yards with nine touchdowns, Cooper decided to pursue a career as a receiver instead of an outfielder.
Plenty of stereotypes remain in sports, and one of them is that a white player will be a possession receiver. The fact that Cooper, a second-team All-Southeastern Conference selection, ranked second in the SEC with a yards-per-catch average of 18.8 tells you he was not a guy who only caught passes four steps off the line of scrimmage.
He can get open for the deep ball. Cooper had seven catches for 181 yards in the Gators' 51-24 win over Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl, including an 80-yard touchdown.
"I think when I first started, guys looked at me and decided I was one of those possession receivers," he said. "I open it up and they see I can run a little bit, so then they start playing the [go routes].
"That opens everything else up. Once you show people you've got speed, they get on their heels a little bit, and that opens up other routes."
While rookie camp is only a brief introduction into what life at Eagles training camp will be like, it is still a chance to catch an early eye from the coaches, and it also is a chance to learn some valuable lessons before mistakes can become career-defining.
Yesterday toward the end of practice, Cooper had broken free on a crossing pattern and was running free in the end zone.
The incoming pass had a little loft to it, but still looked like a sure touchdown catch - in college.
Instead of going to the ball, Cooper let it come to him. At the last moment, rookie cornerback Trevard Lindley made up the ground and batted the ball away.
"That was my fault," Cooper conceded. "I definitely should've gone to the ball, but I didn't think [Lindley] would get there. But he had great makeup speed. Next time, I will come and go get that ball." *
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