As the scheduled Aug. 7 start to Nebraska's preseason camp approaches, Husker Extra is counting down the 30 most intriguing players on the roster.
This isn’t best player or most important. As a list based on intrigue, it skews a bit toward youth and new players, but there will be plenty of established contributors, too.
No. 16, Niko Cooper, OLB, so.
Whereas yesterday's entry on this list, freshman inside linebacker Keyshawn Greene, is intriguing more for his long-term upside, the latest entry is intriguing because of a different question.
How much can outside linebacker Niko Cooper help right away?
The 6-foot-5, 220-pounder is one of five junior college players NU signed in the 2020 class -- and one of four defensive juco transfers -- and steps into a position group that has as much unknown as any on the roster.
That should spell plenty of opportunity for the Memphis, Tennessee, native who played last year at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College.
“He handles himself so well,” head coach Scott Frost said on National Signing Day in December. “Has an NFL body coming off the edge and rushing the passer. We’re excited to get him cranked up and teach him the defense. I think he’s got a chance to make an immediate impact.”
Since then, of course, the coronavirus pandemic has made for an unsettled offseason all around, but Cooper wasn't going to be on campus for spring ball anyway. The coming weeks will show just how much ground he can make up over some of the returning players.
Certainly, the measurables are there. Ideally, defensive coordinator Erik Chinander would like to be able to roll out outside linebackers that are interchangeable rather than always having to match boundary and field sides due to skill set or size. The Huskers hope Cooper can provide pass-rush juice while also holding up against the run.
"That position, (assistant coach Mike Dawson) has some work cut out for him and they've got some work cut out for themselves," Chinander said this week during a radio interview. "Obviously, that's the biggest question mark."
Cooper is a question mark, too, considering he's yet to step foot on the field in a Big Ten game. He has the benefit of graduating from junior college with three years of eligibility remaining, so he could work himself into being a mainstay among the Blackshirts.
— Parker Gabriel