College Coach on Packers LB Edgerrin Cooper: He Answered Challenge

D.J. Durkin was the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Texas A&M the last two seasons and saw first-hand the rise of Edgerrin Cooper, the Green Bay Packers’ second-round draft pick.
Edgerrin Cooper
Edgerrin Cooper / Tork Mason | USA Today Sports Images

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Green Bay Packers linebacker Edgerrin Cooper was the first player at his position selected in the 2024 NFL Draft because he “learned how to be a pro” during his final season at Texas A&M.

D.J. Durkin, the new defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Auburn after serving in those roles in 2022 and 2023 at Texas A&M, said the Packers drafted a “top-notch” person and player.

“Coop’s a great person, great teammate,” Durkin told Packer Central on Tuesday. “Everyone gets along with him and enjoys him. He’s a pleasure to coach. And I thought he really showed this past season what he’s really made of, what his work ethic is, and how important football is in being a top-notch guy. I challenged him and he made his mind up to say, ‘I’m going to go prepare and do things at a higher level,’ and I thought his play certainly showed it.”

Cooper emerged as a starter during his first season with Durkin. He raised his game to new heights in 2023, though, going from 63 tackles, eight tackles for losses and zero sacks in 2022 to 83 tackles, 17 tackles for losses and eight sacks to earn first-team All-American in 2023.

Why the dramatic uptick in production?

“It’s a credit to him,” Durkin said. “I challenged him last offseason of just doing more to prepare. He’s an elite athlete and he had relied on that his whole career. From small-town high school and when he got to college, based on ability, he can run around and make plays and do stuff, but he wasn’t playing at a consistent level.

“I challenged him. I was like, ‘Here’s what you need to improve’ in terms of preparation off the field, practice habits, went through a list of things with him. That’s things coaches do all the time, right? But some guys do, some guys don’t. He completely responded, took on the challenge and just really developed and matured as a person, as a player. And again, the results speak for themselves.”

Being coachable turned Cooper into a star for one of the best defenses in the nation. It’s what will be required in the NFL, as well, where his athleticism won’t be such an overwhelming advantage.

Not every player is coachable. For a player who has dominated through sheer ability his entire life, he may believe he has all the answers. That wasn’t the case with Cooper, though.

“I’ve been fortunate to be around some great players and high draft picks and everything else,” Durkin said. “What would be the common denominator? You have so many different personalities and different types of players and positions and everything else.

“To me, the two things they have in common is they have a high level of competitiveness and they’re coachable. That’s a trait I don’t think people talk about enough. Great players are coachable. They try to get every tidbit of information out of anyone they are around. Especially at a young age, a lot of guys, they’re the best athlete and, like you said, they think they have all the answers. No, that’s going to cap out at some point. If you want to keep playing and developing, you’ve got to be coachable.

“I would definitely say that Coop is coachable.”

Being coachable allowed Cooper to utilize his tremendous natural ability, which includes 34-inch arms to take on = blockers and 4.51 speed in pursuit. Leading the conference in tackles for losses is “pretty much unheard of” for an off-the-ball linebacker, Durkin said, but that’s what Cooper did as a senior.

“I just think he started to understand the game a lot better,” Durkin said. “I think it slowed down for him. I think he started playing with his eyes in the right place. When he sees something and reacts to it, he’s as good as there is out there in terms of short-area quickness and his long speed. When you put the time in to prepare and study and have your eyes in the right place, you can be a fast reactor. That’s what he was.”

At Texas A&M, Cooper was the weak-side linebacker in Durkin’s nickel-centric scheme. He could see Cooper playing any of the three off-the-ball positions for Packers defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley.

“He can learn more than one spot,” Durkin said. “He has the ability to both play inside and outside the box, for sure.”

“He’s still learning how to play in-the-box backer and taking on blocks and those sorts of things,” he continued. “I think he was much better at that. He’s working at that and improving that, but I think that’s something that he’ll have to continue to progress on. Again, he’s such a fast, dynamic player. He’s been relying on that for a long time. ‘I’ve run around blocks,’ and now I think he’s working on the things you’ve got to do to play at that level and be consistent about it.”

Durkin has led top defenses for more than a decade, including stops at Florida and Michigan before Texas A&M and Auburn. So, he knows what NFL players look like and what it takes to succeed.

Now that Cooper is in the NFL, why is he going to be a hit?

“I think it really goes back to what I said. He showed this past year that he’s willing to do what it takes to be an elite player and to be a consistent performer,” Durkin said. “He learned how to be a pro. To be a pro, you’ve got to do the right things off the field, not just within the hours of the demands of what everyone else does.

“You’ve got to do the extra. You’ve got to watch the extra film, take care of your body extra, all those little things. Those are the guys that last and make it and play for a while. He showed he’s capable and willing of doing that. That’s it. He’s building good habits. If he keeps those habits, that will happen for him.”

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Bill Huber


Bill Huber, who has covered the Green Bay Packers since 2008, is the publisher of Packer Central, a Sports Illustrated channel. E-mail: History: Huber took over Packer Central in August 2019. Twitter: Background: Huber graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he played on the football team, in 1995. He worked in newspapers in Reedsburg, Wisconsin Dells and Shawano before working at The Green Bay News-Chronicle and Green Bay Press-Gazette from 1998 through 2008. With The News-Chronicle, he won several awards for his commentaries and page design. In 2008, he took over as editor of Packer Report Magazine, which was founded by Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Nitschke, and In 2019, he took over the new Sports Illustrated site Packer Central, which he has grown into one of the largest sites in the Sports Illustrated Media Group.