Bills

Bills sign former Raiders running back/special teamer

Amari Cooper doesn’t think much of 1,000-yard seasons. The Raiders receiver has two in as many years as a pro, and couldn’t care less.

It didn’t matter to him as a rookie in 2015, even as the first Raider in 10 years to hit four figures. The milestone was met with a shrug again last year, and it certainly isn’t a primary goal heading into this season.

Cooper’s bar is set far higher than that.

“It’s not really that hard to get a 1,000 yards in a 16-game season,” Cooper said. “I’ve had a lot of games where I didn’t produce like I thought I should’ve. I definitely have a lot to improve on and I feel like I can make that improvement this year.”

Cooper sees growth potential in his first two seasons. The stats show the same thing. The 2015 No. 4 overall pick trailed off in both of his NFL campaigns.

He had 45 receptions for 665 yards in the 2015 season’s first half. He had 27 receptions for 405 yards after that. Cooper hauled in 52 passes for 787 yards through eight games of 2016, with 27 receptions for 405 yards in that season’s second half. Cooper admitted a foot injury impacted latter parts of his rookie year. He didn’t cite health concerns last year, though he dealt with back and shoulder issues later in the year. Cooper’s 1,153 yards ranked eighth last year, one of 25 receivers to cross the 1,000-yard plateau.

Cooper’s regular-season goal is 16 games of awesome. Remaining in top gear should produce some lofty totals, stats that should rank among the NFL’s elite. The Raiders added respected receiving tight end Jared Cook to the arsenal, which should make it harder to shade coverage toward Cooper.

The Alabama product must be physically ready to capitalize. He entered training camp noticeably stronger, adding seven pounds of muscle during the offseason.

“I definitely learned from the past two seasons,” Cooper said. “The season in the NFL is longer than the season in college. That’s one of the things I’ve learned, like how to take care of your body throughout the season and stuff like that.”

He’ll lose some of that weight here in Napa, but carrying added bulk could help him be more aggressive and quarterback-friendly in the pattern.

“When you’re a little bit more sturdy at route tops and you have that natural hand fighting with DBs, it helps you stay a little bit more in balance,” offensive coordinator Todd Downing said. “It certainly helps you come back to the ball and play through the ball stronger. Those are two areas that I can say I’ve seen a big difference with Amari. Holding his route path as you’re fighting down the field whether on vertical routes on a go or you’re trying to hold your stem on a slant. When you have a little bit more girth to you, a little bit more strength, it’s harder for the DBs to knock you off course.”

Cooper is bigger and stronger and just as fast. He has been excellent throughout the offseason program and early in camp – he’s banged up now, but his undisclosed ailment is considered minor – making tough downfield catches in traffic. His chemistry with quarterback Derek Carr might be stronger than ever. The stage is set for a monster year if all goes right. Cooper isn’t thinking that far ahead.

“My main focus this season is to take advantage of every opportunity that I have,” he said. “If I get the ball thrown to me 10 times in practice tomorrow, I want to catch 10 passes. I just want to maximize my opportunities.”

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