Cooper stands tall on defensive line

Sophomore defensive end will step into the spotlight in 2005, no matter how much he weighs

The question elicits a wry grin.

Jamal, how much do you weigh now?

Jamal Cooper, the University of Wisconsin's most productive returning defensive lineman, actually weighed about 195 pounds at the end of last summer.

"I'm going to say 215," Cooper said Wednesday. "Yeah, I'm about 215, somewhere around there."

For a defensive end that still qualifies as a featherweight, yet the sophomore-to-be has stood out this spring as the Badgers' best and most consistent defensive lineman.

Facing 300-plus pound offensive linemen, Cooper thrives on technique, maintaining excellent leverage while using his 6-foot-4 frame to keep the big guys at bay, allowing him to hold the point against the run. Cooper is exceptionally quick off the edge and should make his mark as a pass rusher this fall. But he wants to be, and is, much more than a rush end.

"Actually, I like playing the run better than the pass," Cooper said. "I like pass stuff, but I like just smacking somebody and the [offensive] line just coming out [at you]. I like that more than just swimming somebody."

With his long, wide receiver-like frame, Cooper will likely never be a 260-pounder, but he is anchoring the Badgers' line regardless of how much weight he packs.

"Up front we always say yeah, yeah, yeah [add more weight] but right now at 215 pounds he is holding his own," defensive line coach John Palermo said. "There isn't anybody beating him. I'd like to see him bigger but we are going to play with what we have and right now he is one of our better players."

In his redshirt freshman season last year, Cooper had 18 tackles, two sacks and five tackles for loss. He played in all 12 games, starting one for injured end Jonathan Welsh, the then-senior who Cooper will replace in this fall's starting lineup.

Like Cooper, Welsh, one of four starters the Badgers must replace on the defensive line this season, was widely considered undersized for the position. A former cross country athlete, Welsh played anywhere from 210-240 pounds during his UW career. But he started for two seasons and will likely be a mid-round selection in next weekend's NFL Draft.

"The position is the position and you put the best player you have there whether they are 250 or whether they are 210," Palermo said.

Junior defensive end Joe Monty, the only returning defensive lineman with more experience than Cooper, had 18 tackles and one sack last season. Of the other defensive linemen on the roster, only presumed starting tackles Justin Ostrowski and Nick Hayden, end/tackle Kurt Ware and tackle Mark Gorman played last season, totaling 10 tackles, one sack and 1.5 tackles for loss between them.

While Ware (6-4, 275), Monty (6-2, 252) and redshirt freshman end/tackle Jason Chapman (6-4, 275) have a considerable weight advantage on Cooper, Palermo has not experimented with taking Cooper out of the lineup versus the run this spring.

"I think I need to add weight," Cooper said. "I ain't going to say I don't. I know I can play at this weight but just more weight, it is just helpful; it is just a benefit."

A year ago, Cooper was still the new guy on the defensive line block, with a cadre of veterans to learn from. This spring, with the departure of five seniors from last season's squad, Cooper has adjusted to being an elder statesman — by changing his demeanor as little as possible.

"People may expect more," Cooper said of being a first-team player, "but I don't treat spring any different. I treat it as we need to get myself better."

Still, Cooper is well aware of the fact that the defensive line is quite a bit younger this time around.

"It is kind of funny because I guess I'm one of the old guys but I'm still young," he said. "It is kind of funny but it is no big deal. I'm just one of the guys…

"I'm a still a freshman a little bit in the head… Just my attitude. I'm still carefree, I'm still going to try to have fun with everybody. I'm serious to a point but I'm still cool with everybody, I'm not too serious."

The typically laid back St. Louis native has been more boisterous this spring. He once greeted part of a practice with what can be generously described as a dance on the field. Wednesday, he sounded the beginning of the scrimmage session by serenading his teammates with a noisy bellow that was indistinguishable even to himself.

"You can't be out there all mean and mad," Cooper said. "I'll just be out there yelling. Probably won't be saying nothing much but just be out there being crazy just to myself, just trying to keep a smile on my own self… Just trying to keep it light."

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