Rookie rush linebacker Jonathon Cooper would be ranked high if you were listing the biggest longshots to make the Denver Broncos' final 53-man roster. As a result of a heart procedure that robbed him of the bulk of the offseason, the odds of the 23-year-old succeeding were long.
Fast forward to the aftermath of the Broncos' second preseason game vs. the Seattle Seahawks, and the former Ohio State standout is now feeling the vibe from his head coach, who confirmed that Cooper's performances will see him crack the roster.
“He’s made improvements the whole way. The more he plays the better he’ll be,” Vic Fangio said following Denver's 30-3 win over Seattle. “You know, we’re expecting him to be a rotational guy for us behind Bradley [Chubb] and Von [Miller], and hopefully he did some good in the special team because we’re going to need him there.”
Having depth at edge rusher remains a key priority for the Broncos because they still have bitter memories of Bradley Chubb and Von Miller going down with season-ending injuries in back-to-back seasons. Drafted in the seventh round, Cooper made a statement with a strip-sack on Saturday night in Seattle, providing yet more evidence that he is a savvy rookie who knows how to close on the opposing quarterback.
Fangio and the coaching staff are starting to believe that Cooper can provide some valuable production as the fourth rush linebacker into the breach behind Miller, Chubb, and Malik Reed — the last of whom led the Broncos in sacks last year despite Chubb earning a Pro Bowl nod. After a succession of serious health scares, Cooper hasn’t lost any confidence or self-belief.
“I’m never going to say I doubted myself. I knew what I was capable of,” Cooper said post-game. “I didn’t know the journey to get here would be so hard. But at the end of the day, I have confidence in myself and I just want to go out there and play the best I can.”
It would now come as quite a shock if Cooper was to play his way off the final roster because of how much he's flashed. He notched two sacks in Seattle but that doesn’t mean he's resting on his laurels as Fangio's major roster decisions loom large.
“I can’t speak on that,” Cooper said. “That’s up to the coaches obviously. I just want to go out there and show them that whatever they ask me to do, whatever it is, I’m willing to do it and give 110% effort every single time on every single rep.”
Follow Keith on Twitter @KeithC_NFL.
Subscribe to Mile High Huddle on YouTube for daily Broncos live-stream podcasts!