Rivera insists Cooper was one of two Chargers defenders robbed of Pro Bowl honors last season, with CB Quentin Jammer being the other.
DC Ron Rivera
It's easy to see why he's partial to Cooper. Despite missing the first four games of the season due to a suspension, Cooper bounced back to tally 98 tackles and lead all NFL linebackers with four interceptions, all of which came in the final four games of the season.
Cooper's sensational play at the right inside linebacker slot leaves four players to battle for starting rights at left inside linebacker.
Tim Dobbins (eight starts) and Matt Wilhelm (seven starts) split starting duties last season, with Dobbins playing mostly on running downs and Wilhelm coming in for passing situations.
Brandon Siler is also in the mix after establishing himself as a force on special teams and in the goal-line defense. The final contestant is Anthony Waters, although he could stay at outside linebacker depending on what else the Chargers do at that position.
"They're all good players," said Rivera of the four men who will compete for the one starting assignment. "It's going to be a lot of fun."
Rivera recognizes the silver-lining from last year's injury-plagued campaign is that many young players were forced to gain experience. A few of them -- including Antwan Applewhite and Paul Oliver, among others -- will continue to have large roles going forward.
Add that young talent to the reintroduction of Shawne Merriman and the healthy returns of Antonio Cromartie (hip) and Luis Castillo (back), and Rivera can use only one word to describe his feelings towards next season: "Excited."
Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003.