TEMPE, Arizona — Jonathan Cooper says he understands why he won't be starting when the Arizona Cardinals open their season Monday night against San Diego.
Coach Bruce Arians confirmed Wednesday that Ted Larsen will start at left guard. Cooper, the seventh overall pick in the draft last year, will be left to try to work his way back from what's been a rocky effort to get the job after missing all of last season with a broken leg.
"He had his opportunities," Arians said. "You can't get there in a day's practice. ... Like I said before, I don't care about draft status. I want to see results on the field, and Ted Larsen has way outplayed him."
Early in training camp, Arians criticized Cooper for not shaking the rust off more quickly. Then the big offensive lineman was sidelined with turf toe.
"I honestly don't feel like from my performance, from injuries, the time I've had off, I have not earned that spot," Cooper said after Wednesday's practice.
Cooper was the first player drafted after Steve Keim took over as general manager and Arians was hired as coach.
From the start, Cooper showed the mobility that the left guard needs under Arians' system, before he went down in the third preseason game.
"I felt like last year I was on the verge of being a pretty good player," Cooper said, "so I'm trying to get back on that track and really just work to be a great NFL player."
It won't happen in a hurry, now that the preseason is over.
"It's very hard now to get an opportunity because you only get in pads one day a week," Arians said. "It's hard, unless somebody gets hurt. Now he better be ready if someone goes down. That's probably going to be his best opportunity right now."
Cooper has been surprisingly positive, at least publicly, throughout his ordeal.
"I understand what's going on," he said. "I'm not mad or upset. I'm just really hungry to improve so when my time comes I'm ready to go."
Arians said Cooper is healthy enough now to fight through the toe injury.
"But you still have to play well," the coach said. "His play before the injury wasn't stellar. He was looking like a guy who's coming back off a year's injury. He's going to be a heck of a player. It's just a matter of time and taking the right approach with him and letting him get healthy."
Cooper was asked what the coaches want to see out of him.
"They want to see me continue to work hard and just improve, all the way around, not one specific thing," he said, "just continue to improve and be the player they drafted."
Cooper acknowledged that he lost confidence as he fought back from the injury but "I feel like I'm in a good place now. I understand what I have to do. It's just a matter of doing it."
"It's definitely helping me build character, I know that much," he said, "because it's been a difficult road. But I know that I'll be fine if I just keep working, keep my head down and be the best I can be."
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