Cooper has been viewed by many as a possible replacement to Randall Godfrey should he retire. The former undrafted free agent out of Maine has quietly bided his time, contributing on special teams and consistently at the ready.
It was last year against the Jets that he came on for an injured Godfrey and proceeded to lead the team in tackles. He also flashed his ability with seven tackles against Kansas City in the finale last year. On Sunday he netted eight tackles and a half sack.
"I tried to fly around and make the right calls and put guys in the right position," said Cooper. "Myself and Shaun Phillips had to step up and that is what we did."
"One of the exciting things is to see a young guy, Stephen Cooper is an example, to step up and play well," head coach Marty Schottenheimer praised.
Phillips has been used as a situational pass rusher since joining the team but got extended playing time in place of Foley. He registered four sacks a year ago and has two this season through eight games. On Sunday he recorded a fumble recovery, the third of his career. That play, setup by a Shawne Merriman sack, ended a Chiefs scoring drive inside the red zone.
What was impressive about the performance, according to Schottenheimer, was it came against an offensive line he heralded as the best in football. His praise afterwards, therefore, was even greater for his young squad because of the level of competition they faced.
"Castillo is an outstanding player at this point, particularly in regard to the players he is lining up against," the coach said.
Luis Castillo and Shawne Merriman combined for 3.5 sacks with Cooper registering the other half sack on the night. That production, without several of their core starters, matched a season-high set against Dallas in week one and Oakland in week six.
"The ability to put pressure on their quarterback was clearly the highlight of the day," Schottenheimer added.
With the bad snap Jets up next, the Chargers are finally poised for the run towards the playoffs. And it took a little bit of youth to get them there.