Merv Johnson, OU's Director of Football Operations, was considered one the best offensive line coaches in the country when he was coaching. Johnson knows a good offensive lineman when he sees one, and the first day he laid his eyes on then freshman center Jon Cooper, he said he had a chance to be a two-time All-American and a center in the NFL.
Cooper started two games at center and played a great deal at both center and guard as a true freshman before breaking his right-ankle against Texas Tech. The rehab has not been easy and at times progress has been very slow.
However, the Colorado native has stayed after it and he is on schedule to be the starting center for the Sooners when they open the season against UAB on Sept. 2. In fact, Cooper executed his block at the line of scrimmage and then raced down to get a second block on strong safety Jason Carter on one play during Sunday's practice. And after at least getting a piece of Carter, you could hear Cooper laughing all the way back to the huddle. That was laughter of joy for a guy who is finally feeling like he can run again.
And after practice on Sunday, Cooper stopped to talk to OUInsider.com about his healt and desire to be a great player at OU.
JH: Jon, I get more questions about you than just about anybody else on the football team. How is Jon Cooper doing?
JC: "I am doing a lot better. I am getting better every day. I am getting my confidence back and I just feel real good every time I get to step on this football field."
JH: You say you are getting better every day, but are you on schedule to start against UAB?
JC: "I will be ready by Sept. 2. I promise you that. I am out here and I am going full speed every day. If we were playing today I would be playing every snap."
JH: It looks to me like you have had a good camp thus far?
JC: "My ankle still hurts. In fact, it hurts a lot. I have it taped up as much as you can possible do. I just want to get back to where I feel as comfortable as I can. I am faster than I was and stronger than I was. I just want to get back to where I am 100 percent in my head and in my ankle."
JH: Smitty said that you had a great testing day. Didn't you lift 435?
JC: "I really don't remember the exact numbers, but he was working with me all the time I was hurt and he had me lifting all the time. He always had me going real hard. We just did a rep thing, and I think it was how many times you could do 315. I am not sure how many I did, but I know I want to do more the next time we lift. I want to keep going. There is no max for me, I just want to keep going."
JH: How tough is the center exchange with Paul Thompson?
JC: "Paul isn't new, I snapped to him last year. We had a couple of bad snaps the first day and since then we have done it pretty well. When you have to change centers so much like we do in camp, then snapping the ball can become pretty hard. That quarterback needs the snap in the same spot every time, and when you change centers there is going to be an adjustment period.
The quarterback can't move with you. You have to snap the ball at the same time every time. That quarterback is going to trust that you are going to put the ball in the same spot and if you over-compensate and snap it to the right or low, then he is going to have trouble getting it. It is a science, but it is second nature to me now."
JH: You have been snapping for a long time, so at this point it isn't that much of a problem for you is it?
JC: "Well, the first bad snap I had with Paul was my fault. It just slipped. That shouldn't happen and it won't happen. The second one just wasn't right and we just needed to work some things out. I mean, if you are just off a little bit snapping it a little to the right or it is falling to the left or he is back a little bit either way, something can happen and the ball will drop."
JH: How much did it help you to play as much as you did last year?
JC: "It helped me a whole lot. Just getting a chance to play and then playing with older guys really helped me. They taught me a lot about playing football and how to adjust to the speed of the game."
JH: What have you had to go through physically to get back on the field?
JC: "I have been living in the training room. I sleep in there sometimes waiting for my next treatment because they won't let me go. They want to keep the ice and stem on me all the time. So I just wait and ask them when I can get treatment again. I am always asking them what they want me to do. I just got as much treatment as I could and worked real hard to get back on the field."
JH: Is this offensive line coming together? Just how good can this offensive line be?
JC: "The sky is the limit for us. We are a good, young offensive line. Chris Messner has a lot of experience and he is a guy who works hard every snap. It is tremendous how hard these guys work. All of us work together as a unit and that will only make us better."
Two Minute Drill: Jon Cooper
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