Chargers expand role of Cooper

Most of us have grown up, matured or simply enjoyed watching future Hall of Famer Brett Favre work the field with his rocket, throw the ball from an inch off the ground, and make defenses shake their head in disgust at the things he does. He has the ability to frustrate defenses with his uncanny timing and erratic precision. Yet, he is admired by many defenders. Count San Diego Chargers linebacker Stephen Cooper among the admirers.

So when Stephen Cooper earned his first career interception off Brett Favre, it highlighted a promising individual season for the undrafted rookie.

"It was one of the best feelings all year," said Cooper.

Sure the Chargers were terrible at 4-12, but the memories will never fade on something so special.

The interception came off a tipped ball by fellow linebacker Donnie Edwards. Cooper went up and snared it. The celebration was just beginning for the youngster.

When he returned to the sidelines, Cooper was swarmed by teammates who congratulated him on his first pick. They were elated to see him intercept the legend, Brett Favre.

Cooper admits he was in a state of shock. "Honestly I didn't know what to think. I was just in awe. After a while, a lot of guys were like you just intercepted Brett Farve for your first pick. I got really excited."

You can imagine Cooper, at 24 years old, having a poster of Favre in his room.

"Getting it off Brett Farve, a guy I really respected growing up and watched a lot of. He is one of my favorite players in the NFL. It was a big deal for me and I was just happy I got an interception."

The interception paved the way for more playing time and an expanded role as the season wore on. With that came experience, a valuable tool for any rookie much less an undrafted one.

He added a sack and was in on a number of tackles, but there were others he missed. Every player on the Chargers squad, save one or two, was somehow part of the problem and not the solution.

Cooper, he of the small role, is more than willing to place some of the blame on himself for a subpar defensive season in San Diego. He even went so far as to take some of the heat off recently departed defensive coordinator Dale Lindsey.

"I thought the defense came around at the end of the year. Everybody said we were a young team, but I didn't think that really had anything to do with it. We just, throughout the year, weren't really on the same page. Next year I think we will be a real good defense, one of the top defenses in the NFL.

"I didn't think Dale did a bad job the majority of the time. We had good play calls, but we didn't take care of our responsibilities. We just have to play together and be on the same page, all eleven guys."

The fall guy became Lindsey and surely others will follow suit. Enter Wade Phillips and a new aggressive style of play. Cooper is unsure how that will play into the equation. He confesses he is just trying to get better and make more plays and his worry is centered on how he can play better with his teammates.

With that in mind his prognosis for 2004 is simple:

"We just have to play together."

It was the same story heard before the 2003 season began and echoed throughout the year. Lindsey never got that message through. Cooper and the rest of the crew is hoping Phillips will find a way to get the message out.

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

SD Super Chargers Top Stories