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Jonathan Cooper healthy, extra offseason work 'kind of paid off'

The former first rounder can't wait for pads to go on to confirm health.

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

It has been said more than a few times, but guard Jonathan Cooper needs to have a good year. After missing his rookie year with a broken year and sitting on the bench all but two games in 2014, people have begun to call the former top 10 pick a bust.

But, at least through offseason work, things are looking up. In the words of head coach Bruce Arians, he was "outstanding" in OTAs and mini-camp. He is moving around well and looking like the guy the team drafted seventh overall.

As a guest on the Doug and Wolf Show on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he spoke of his health and his goals for the season.

"(My) body feels really good," he said. "Even coming in to the first days of OTAs, the coaches were noticing that maybe there's not a limp, or there seems to be a little more spring in my step."

He said mentally he believed he he was better, "but now I'm getting confirmation from coaches and outsiders, so that's really boosted my confidence."

This is huge for him. Last season was a struggle. He wasn't moving quite right. There were flashes, but only flashes. He then suffered turf toe in the preseason, which set him back. Between the injury and Ted Larsen playing well in the eyes of the coaches, Cooper was relegated to the bench. He got to play a bit when Paul Fanaika got hurt and Cooper showed a little bit of good and a little bit of rust. Then he broke his wrist.

Fans questioned his not playing. Arians was firm in saying Cooper wasn't going to start unless there was an injury on the line.

Based on what Cooper revealed, it now is clear why -- he simply wasn't good enough to beat out Larsen because of his leg. It wasn't right still. It was healthy enough, but it wasn't where it was before the injury.

The coaching staff was down on him for some of the year. Cooper said halfway to 3/4 through the season, "the coaches were dogging me, I was on the scout team and they were kind of coming down hard on me, and I had an honest moment with Goody (offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin).

"I was like, 'listen, I am giving it my best, but I don't feel all the way there just yet."

Arians is not a patient coach when it comes to injuries. That explains why he wasn't starting. He wasn't doing enough.

However, "the moment I did (feel all the way there), that's when (the coaches) noticed a difference. I was coming off the ball, I was running faster, fitting up runs better, and it was like 'that's what we've been looking for.'"

The issue is how long it took to get there. Cooper admitted it wasn't until the start of OTAs he felt all the way back -- over a year and a half after his initial injury.

One thing that surely contributed to the final steps of getting back to what he was capable of doing probably was his offseason work.

Last year, he was in the training room still to rehab the leg. This offseason was different, and you can tell in his body. The "baby fat," as Doug Franz referred to it, is gone.

"The whole offseason I stayed here," Cooper explained. "I was out in Chandler working with LaCharles Bentley O-line Performance.

"He just did a number with me, changed the way I ate, had me coming in to work the entire offseason. I trained with our weightlifting coach Buddy (Morris). He had a separate regiment for me, so just a little extra work. It kind of paid off."

Think back to last season. Right tackle Bobby Massie was entering his third season and spent the offseason with Bentley as well. His play was solid in 2014.

As for the bust status, while it does bother Cooper when he hears it from fans and analysts, it isn't a big deal. "My biggest thing is the people who matter -- they're not saying it," he explained. "The people who matter, they're telling me, 'keep working, we know how hard you work, we know that prior to breaking your leg you were doing well and you were on your way up...'

"I just know if I continue to work and continue to get healthy, have the mental side right and my body's physically right, I'll be just fine and I can't let that stuff weigh me down."

That's where he is at. He feels now he is all the way back. He has the mobility, the athleticism. There is one thing left to prove -- "it won't be fully confirmed until we get the pads on."

That's what we all waiting to see.