Corey Cooper says he feels more at home playing safety, which may help explain why the Nebraska junior has “probably exceeded expectations” this spring, according to his position coach, Terry Joseph.
As Nebraska closes in on its final week of spring football practice, consider that good news at one of those question-mark positions on defense.
“I think Cooper’s flying around -- a lot more athletic than we thought he could probably be at this point -- making some plays,” said Joseph, the Huskers’ secondary coach.
Nebraska must replace P.J. Smith and Daimion Stafford at safety, and Joseph began spring practice by putting Cooper and fellow junior Harvey Jackson atop the depth chart.
By no means does that mean they’ll stay there, although the duo has done well, according to Joseph.
“We just continue to compete,” Joseph said. “That position is going to be critical for us, because nobody’s played a ton of snaps over there.”
That includes the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Cooper, who’s played on the nickel and dime defenses the bulk of his career, including all 14 games last season, when he totaled 17 tackles.
Now that he’s settling in at safety, Cooper said he’s having his best spring ever, because he feels more comfortable and is reacting more and thinking less.
“I just feel like it’s my natural position. It’s my comfort zone,” Cooper said. “It’s what I’ve been doing my whole life. It just feels natural to me.”
Jackson, meanwhile, played 13 games last season as a backup safety. Joseph said he likes the length the 6-2, 210-pound Jackson brings to the position.
“When you get a guy who’s longer who can run, obviously it helps him in coverage, and then you get some of these bigger receivers in the slot, and you also have to cover the tight end, it’s just a better matchup for you,” Joseph said.
Such versatility allows coaches to do more with the safeties; last season, Smith and Stafford primarily stayed at their respective positions.
“This year, I think we can be more interchangeable, because those guys’ skill sets are probably more even,” Joseph said. “That’s a plus for us on defense.”
Sophomore Charles Jackson and freshman D.J. Singleton, who’s been participating in spring practice, are also challenging for time at safety.
Joseph said they’ve done “a decent job” this spring.
“Obviously, as a coach, you always want more,” Joseph said. “We’ve just got to stay on them about the details, about lining up and being the quarterback of the defense. That’s the biggest thing we’re missing. We lose (Will) Compton, and then we lose P.J. and Stafford, so now a lot of the calls that guys made for us last year aren’t there.”
That’s where Cooper said he needs some work.
“It’s not really my personality,” Cooper said, “but that’s what the coaches want me to do, so I’m working on being more vocal and helping out guys and trying to carry them along.”
As for securing a starting position, Cooper said he’s embracing the open competition.
“I know what to do to hold on to that job, and they expect me to put it on film. That’s pretty much the goal,” Cooper said.
“I approach it like every day I’m competing with not just guys on the depth chart, but guys around the country. I set a high standard for myself, so every day I come out here, I try to be the best player on the field.”