ARLINGTON - A few years ago, Amari Cooper told me the story of how he learned to play hurt.
He was a newcomer at the University of Alabama, and when he wasn't feeling 100-percent right, he'd remove himself from practice. At one point coach Nick Saban approached him.
"Amari, I can rotate you with the other receivers if you want,'' Saban said. "But you've got to learn that 70 or 80 percent of you is still better than 100 percent of the guys trying to cover you.''
As Cooper told me: "I was concerned that if I wasn't 100-percent, I couldn't win.
"I learned different.''
The Philadelphia Eagles have learned, too, reason enough for them to be concerned about Cooper on Monday night here at AT&T Stadium, when the Dak Prescott-led Dallas Cowboys will likely feature the four-time Pro Bowler despite the fact he's playing with a cracked rib.
“It’s getting better every day,” he said. “I’ll be ready.”
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Cooper's readiness will include some extra padding to protect the injury, something he has been practicing and playing with entering Week 3.
“That’s the thing about football,” he said. "You play once a week, which is tremendous for us. How much you can heal in seven days, the healing process is great over that amount of time.”
Also great: Cooper vs. Philly. In his seven career games against the Eagles, Cooper has caught 33 passes for 614 yards and four touchdowns. He's victimized the Eagles more than he has any other NFL team ... and yes, some of those performances have been delivered after weeks during which Cooper was limited in practice due to injury.
Is it possible that thanks to Saban's teachings, Cooper now somehow plays even better when he's dinged up?
“I started playing hurt, and then what happened was, I started having my best games when I was hurt,” Cooper said. “It was crazy. I’d be healthy, I’d have good games, but I’d be hurt with real pain, just fighting through it, and I’d have my best games. So from there, I was like ‘Man, maybe I need to be hurt some more.''
The Cowboys would prefer Cooper put a hurting on Philly. The Eagles have a history of knowing just how possible that is.
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