Defense Gets a Boost from Coop

It's tough to pick up an impact player one-fourth of the way through the season. But the Chargers do just that this week by welcoming back inside linebacker Stephen Cooper.

Stephen Cooper can participate in his first practice since the preseason on Wednesday, after serving his four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy against steroids and related substances.

Cooper is more than a bit player on the defense. He was the team's leading tackler (179) last year and a standard-barrier in the Chargers' quest to be tough against the run.

Cooper is ready, invigorated and eager to hit someone.

"Just missing football and how important this game is to me," Cooper said. "It isn't about the money, it isn't about the fame, it's more about going out there and winning."

The Chargers were so-so in that regard during Cooper's hiatus. They head for Miami with a 2-2 mark, thanks to a two-game winning streak.

And they think Cooper can do nothing but help the team reach three in that streak.

"It's going to be huge because he's one of those emotional leaders on the field and he's one of our better players on the field also," outside linebacker Shaun Phillips said. "So anytime you can get a guy of that caliber back, it helps us out immensely. It's going to be fun to have him back on the field."


LB Stephen Cooper
SDBoltReport.com Staff

Cooper is adamant that he won't stumble again with tainted supplements, which he claims caused the dirty test.

"I'm a big fan of the sport and I love playing the game," he said. "I just want to go out there and do the best I can do. The learning part of it is just knowing what you are taking and putting in your body. When you work out, they tell you to watch what you take, but by the end of the day, it's always up to you and you have to know what you're doing.

"Supplements are out the door; supplements are out the door. The next (suspension) is eight games. That's too big on the pockets and that's too big on my heart, so I'll definitely stay away from that."

Cooper couldn't stiff-arm his emotions during his suspension. He said he started to cry when the team trotted out for the season opener against the Panthers, when the realization hit that he was sidelined. Those raw emotions didn't feel any better when the defense coughed up two last-minute leads to put the Chargers in a 0-2 hole.

"Especially that Carolina game," Cooper said. "I was sitting on my couch and next thing you know, I'm standing on my couch. Watching that game go down the way it did was kind of tough."

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--QB Philip Rivers looks to bounce back from his worst outing of the season -- a fact that is minimized with the Chargers rallying for the win in Oakland. But Rivers, who was under constant duress, completed just 14 of 25 passes for 180 yards, two interceptions and a touchdown pass. Rivers, though, deserves high marks for staying upbeat as the offensive line was having trouble protecting him.

--RB LaDainian Tomlinson snapped a streak of seven consecutive games -- including the playoffs -- of not rushing for 100 yards. But he went for 106 yards and two scores on the ground. The run-blocking was shaky, so Tomlinson did much of the damage on his own. That further illustrates his toe injury is becoming less of a concern.

--RB Darren Sproles continues to be scary-good whenever he touches the ball. He got just six carries for 12 yards, but his speed makes him a great complement to LaDainian Tomlinson. Sproles had a 67-yard kickoff return he nearly brought back for a score.

--TE Antonio Gates is starting to move more fluidly as he continues to play with his mending toe. He had a team-high five receptions for 58 yards and a score.

--WR Vincent Jackson had three catches for 52 yards and is getting more keen at snatching the passes at their highest point, not giving cornerbacks the chance to swat them away. Jackson is going to get better as the season progresses.

--WR Chris Chambers had two catches for 42 yards -- what is news is that neither of them went for a touchdown. Chambers continues to be a reliable safety value for QB Philip Rivers, as he can always rely on the savvy Chambers to be exactly where he is supposed to be.

--FB Michael Tolbert, an undrafted rookie, has passed Jacob Hester, a third-round pick, in the eyes of the coaches. Tolbert continues to see the field with regularity as the lead blocker for LaDainian Tomlinson. He also had a carry and a reception Sunday.

--WR Buster Davis got a taste of the offense in Week 3 with three catches, but he went undercover again in Oakland. In four games this year, Davis, the team's top pick last year, has had receptions in just one of those outings.

--C Nick Hardwick had his hands full with the physical Oakland front line in his first start of the season after rebounding from foot surgery.

--RG Mike Goff is hobbling around after suffering a knee sprain Sunday. An MRI was encouraging, and Goff is known for having a high tolerance to pain. He likely will play Sunday.

--OLB Jyles Tucker could be down this week with a hamstring injury. Tucker was behind Shawne Merriman before Merriman's injury thrust him into the lineup.

--OLB Marques Harris filled in for OLB Jyles Tucker and would do so Sunday if Tucker can't go. Harris had one of the key defensive plays Sunday when he sacked and stripped JaMarcus Russell of the ball to help fuel the Chargers' second-half rally. Harris' game is built around speed, not strength.

--CB Quentin Jammer doesn't get the publicity teammate Antonio Cromartie does, but it was Jammer's play that stood out on Sunday. Jammer plays with more discipline and is solid in run support.

--DT Jamal Williams showed why he is a Pro Bowler with his play on Sunday -- six tackles, a half-sack and creating plenty of disruption. Williams has been slow to round into shape after undergoing two offseason knee surgeries. Williams is the key to the Chargers' success in their 3-4 alignment; he continues to be rotated in and out with more regularity as the team tries to save his battered knees. Williams has yet to play at the level the Chargers are accustomed to, which is among the reasons the run defense has been shaky.

--ILB Tim Dobbins' strong showing has cut into starter Matt Wilhelm's playing time. Dobbins could eventually push Wilhelm out of the starting lineup with his physical play.

--OLB Shaun Phillips had 1 1/2 sacks Sunday in his best game of the year. Phillips has had to adjust to playing without Shawne Merriman on the opposite side.


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