LINCOLN — When Nebraska safety Corey Cooper says his head and mind are more clear now, it makes sense when you think about his time so far as a Husker.
In his first three football seasons with NU, Cooper played for three secondary coaches, studying under Marvin Sanders, Corey Raymond and then Terry Joseph.
In the two years that he played, the 6-foot-1, 210-pounder was anywhere from safety to cornerback to the sixth defensive back in the Huskers’ dime package.
“I just feel more comfortable now,” Cooper said. “I’m just happy now.”
With some stability to go with experience, maturation and better knowledge of the NU defense, Cooper is using this spring to make his push for a starting job in his junior season.
“He’s getting better,” Joseph said. “The first eight or nine practices, he’s done a good job. He’s probably exceeded our expectations to this point.”
Cooper and Harvey Jackson were among those backing up Daimion Stafford and P.J. Smith last season. Playing in all 14 games as a sophomore, Cooper finished with 17 total tackles when adding in his special teams stops.
Joseph said Cooper and Jackson have done a “decent job” in their first real opportunity to step away from the shadows of Stafford and Smith.
“As a coach, you always want more,” he said. “You’ve got to stay on them about the details and lining up and being the quarterback of the defense. That’s the biggest thing we’re missing losing (Will) Compton and losing P.J. Smith. A lot of calls made last year, those guys are gone.”
It helps that Cooper understands what Joseph is asking, too. It was right before spring practice a year ago when Joseph came aboard — and Cooper felt like he was starting all over again.
Every coach is different, Cooper said, both with what they teach and how they teach it. As he bounced from Sanders to Raymond to Joseph, he also had to balance that with learning the Bo Pelini scheme.
That, combined with being moved around and waiting his turn, led to some highs and lows for the native of Maywood, Ill.
“There were definitely lows,” Cooper said, shaking his head. “Everybody wants to play. Everybody’s talented enough to play and wants to play, so it’s definitely frustrating. I’d be lying if I said I was happy with it.
“I’m glad it happened because I trust Bo and I trust the staff. Now I’ve got two years left, and I’m bound for a breakout season.”
Cooper will be happiest that it comes at safety — what he feels is his natural position — but he realizes that playing some other spots has probably helped him better grasp the overall system. He started a game at cornerback as a redshirt freshman and then three last season in the dime package, including the Capital One Bowl.
“Everything makes more sense now,” he said. “My head’s more clear now.”
Cooper realizes that it’s time to prove it. Nebraska has some younger safeties waiting for a chance if either he or Jackson slips at all.
So it’s all about the progress never ending.
“I feel like I’m doing a good job out here,” Cooper said. “It’s not perfect. I’m just now getting back to the safety position, so I’m getting used to it again. But I think I’m doing a good job so far.”
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