TC Battle Preview: Starting Inside Linebacker

With Stephen Cooper's four-game suspension afoot, a battle will unfold for temporary rights to his starting slot. Veteran Derek Smith and sophomore Anthony Waters see a heated skirmish during training camp as both eye the vacancy. Jaime Cattano breaks it down in's first Training Camp Battle Preview of the off-season.

LB Stephen Cooper ended last season leading the team with 108 tackles, tacking on two sacks and two interceptions. But, instead of continuing the momentum, he will enter the upcoming season on a different note. Upon failure to abide by the NFL's anti-doping policy, Cooper will be suspended for the first four games of the season.

The defensive signal-caller's absence from the starting lineup leaves an opening to be filled. Anthony Waters would have already called it his own if it weren't for the recent addition of Derek Smith. Waters and Smith embark on a challenge as each desires Cooper's coveted spot.

Waters (6'3", 238 pounds) enters his second year with the Bolts after spending his rookie season inactive while shaking off the lingering effects of knee surgery. While he is itching to contribute, Norv Turner is notably pleased with Waters' progress and pines to see unyielding production from him this season.

"Waters really couldn't practice a whole lot last year," Turner said. "He never was 100 percent. But he did a great job with all the opposition's stuff (on scout team) during the season and he has had a great offseason."

While Waters typically provides strength behind LB Matt Wilhelm, Cooper's latest misstep has given Waters an opportunity to see field time sooner than expected. Water looks to bring his intense work ethic and steady aggression to training camp with the hope to step into Cooper's role.

Waters' play has spoken for itself all off-season. He made a particularly loud point with his recent Mini Camp performance.

However, Smith has some ideas of his own.

An 11-year veteran, Smith (6'2", 237 pounds) signed a two-year deal with the Bolts earlier this offseason. He spent the past seven years with the San Francisco 49ers, where he recorded at least 100 tackles for five of those seasons. With 1,092 career tackles under his belt, Smith brings unprecedented knowledge and experience.

While Waters and Smith appear to go toe-to-toe in the size department, it is Smith's experience that gives him the edge. But don't expect Waters to give up without an intense brawl. Waters has an outlook that could put Smith one step below him.

"If you want something bad enough, you can really get it as long as you stay focused, stay determined and refuse to give up," Waters said. "You have to be relentless, make your mind up, go get it and do what it takes. You can't let anything stop you. So, I just try to stay focused and keep my eye on the prize."

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