Amari Cooper plays down exhibition debut for Raiders
For the rookie receiver, Friday night's game against the St. Louis Rams is just another step in his transition from top college wideout to NFL player.
''I've always been all business like,'' he said Wednesday. ''I just want to go out there and play an excellent game. There might be some mistakes but I'll deal with them then.''
The anticipation for Cooper has been palpable ever since the Raiders selected him fourth overall in the NFL draft back in April. The former Alabama star is being counted on to give the Raiders the game-breaking receiver they have lacked for the past decade.
Cooper has lived up to his lofty billing as one of the most pro-ready receivers to come out of college in years with his play on the practice field. Now the Raiders get to see it in games.
''The guy gets better at something every day,'' quarterback Derek Carr said. ''There's so much in the NFL that goes on at the line of scrimmage compared to college when you're just running by guys. He's gotten so much better and had so much growth in that area. He's doing great things whether it's at the top of his route like he did today on a third down. Whatever it is, there's little things he's getting better at.''
The additions of Cooper and fellow receiver Michael Crabtree were the biggest offseason moves made on the offensive side of the ball as the Raiders look to improve on a three-win season and end a playoff drought that started in the 2003 season.
Oakland has been without a big-play wide receiver for most of those lost seasons. The Raiders haven't had any receiver reach the 1,000-yard mark since Randy Moss in 2005, tied with Jacksonville for the longest current drought in the league.
After leading the nation with 124 catches last season in the tough SEC and ranking second with 1,727 yards receiving and 16 touchdown catches, Cooper is expected to end that drought eventually. But he knows there will be an adjustment in the pro game.
''It's a bit harder with the fact that guys are better on the defensive side of the ball,'' Cooper said. ''They're smarter. You're not going to keep beating them the same way so you have to bring it every day and use some moves you probably haven't used before.''
Despite a few slipups, Cooper has still managed to impress his new teammates with his polish and dedication.
''He's going to be pretty special,'' safety Charles Woodson said. ''He can do it all. The sky will be the limit for that young man.''
While hopes are high for Cooper after being the third Raiders receiver drafted in the top 10 since 1967, Crabtree has been the better performer on the practice field this summer.
After being hampered by injuries the past two seasons in San Francisco, Crabtree was forced to sign a one-year, prove-it deal in free agency that only guaranteed him $1.3 million. But he has shown signs in practice of being the player who topped 1,100 yards receiving back in 2012 when the 49ers made it to the Super Bowl.
He has built an immediate chemistry with Carr that the Raiders hope will carry over to games.
''You always hear about how people finish friendly to the quarterback. He always finishes friendly, for whatever that means,'' Carr said. ''Whatever the route is, for some reason, it's just easy to throw to him and that's a credit to his route-running abilities. That's a credit to the extra work that he puts in in the offseason. I mean, that guy works his tail off now. You can tell when he gets out here, because he makes it look so easy.''
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