Cooper's patience could produce a payoff this fall

2013-08-23T23:45:00Z Cooper's patience could produce a payoff this fallBy BRIAN CHRISTOPHERSON / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

They’ve been roommates since arriving in Lincoln, taking on the college experience side by side.

Plenty of time to talk. Sometimes they’d talk about the future. Corey Cooper and Harvey Jackson would imagine aloud what it’d be like to one day be Nebraska’s starting safeties together.

“This is something we’ve been talking about since we’ve been here,” Cooper said.

Patience. If that trait doesn't come naturally, sometimes you have to learn it out of necessity. Both Cooper and Jackson waited their turns while more experienced players took the lion's share of snaps at safety the past two years.

The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Cooper saw the field, sure. He made a brief, somewhat awkward cameo as a starting cornerback against Wyoming in 2011. And he played in all 14 games last year, working mostly as a dime backer.

Now a junior, Cooper wasn’t complaining. He just wanted to play. But he’ll tell you this: Safety is home to him.

“That’s what I’ve been doing my whole life,” he said.

So when he moved back to safety for full-time work this spring, well, that was pretty darn good. And when the guy working next to you is your roomie? That’s even better.

Now, just maybe, those aspirations the two used to talk about will become a reality.

“In this game, you've all got to be on the same page,” Cooper said. “He pretty much knows what I’m thinking, I know what he’s thinking. That chemistry right there is going to be good for us.”

Granted, there’s still a little bit of guesswork involved when it comes to Nebraska’s starting safeties.

One week before the season opener against Wyoming, secondary coach Terry Joseph said there are no spots locked up in the defensive backfield other than one — senior nickel back Ciante Evans.

Joseph says there are four or five players he’d feel comfortable rolling out at the safety spots.

Cooper and Harvey Jackson emerged from spring as the top safeties and are strong picks as the likely starters next week. But senior Andrew Green, sophomore Charles Jackson and redshirt freshman LeRoy Alexander also have garnered praise this fall.

So, work remains to lock down a job. Always.

For Cooper, that work to becoming a starting safety actually stretches three years now. He redshirted in 2010 after being a prized signing-day coup for Nebraska that year, picking the Huskers over the likes of Notre Dame, Arizona and home-state Illinois.

If Cooper felt a bit out of place the past couple years when not at safety, both he and Husker coach Bo Pelini believe his time at other positions will benefit him now.

"What I've found is his experience of playing up has helped him going back," Pelini said. "And just getting game experience, getting confidence, having success, he understands how things work up front. So I think it made him a better safety having been up.”

Cooper echoes that idea. You have to know everything at safety, he says.

You have to make calls, checks, and understand all that's going on at the positions in front of you.

“You've pretty much got to be quarterback on your side of the field,” Cooper said.

If he is indeed one of the starters next week, Cooper also knows he’ll have to keep clocking in every day to maintain his spot.

But that doesn’t mean a guy can’t stop for a minute and acknowledge the excitement about potentially beginning the season atop the depth chart.

It’s the payoff for patience.

“It was difficult at first, but I know I had to wait my turn. I had to learn the scheme,” Cooper said. “Once I got comfortable with it, I knew it’d be worth the wait.”

There's excitement, of course, but not just on a personal level.

Cooper is eager for this defense to be out there on the stage, and perhaps exceed some expectations.

“People probably don’t expect much from this defense because we’re inexperienced,” he said. “But we want to answer that and prove people wrong.”

Reach Brian Christopherson at bchristopherson@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. Follow him on Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

Copyright 2015 JournalStar.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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