ALAMEDA — The problem with Amari Cooper?
One that has plagued receivers from under-8 youth football all the way to the NFL.
“Most of the balls that I’ve dropped have been from the result of trying to run before I actually catch the ball,” Cooper said Wednesday.
Cooper said this with a straight face — he says everything with a straight face — and a somber tone that is evident in most all of his conversations.
Things get even more serious Sunday when the Raiders visit the Denver Broncos after taking it on the chin against Washington and falling to 2-1.
Only the third receiver in NFL history with 70 or more catches and 1,000 or more yards in each of his first two seasons, the hope was Cooper would secure his position among the NFL’s elite young receivers, joining the likes of Odell Beckham Jr. and Antonio Brown.
Through three games, anyway, that bid has fallen harmlessly to the ground.
According to Profootballfocus.com, Cooper leads the NFL with six dropped passes, and while tallying those numbers is subjective based on what is and what is not a pass that should be caught, he has double the amount of anyone else.
Quarterback Derek Carr through three games has completed 10 of 23 passes (43 percent) for 101 yards, a touchdown and an interception when throwing to Cooper. His passer rating to Cooper is 53.0 — a tenth ahead of the 52.9 he posted in Sunday night’s 27-10 road loss to Washington.
To turn things around against Denver is a tall order, with the Broncos boasting three top-level cornerbacks in Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr. and Bradley Roby.
“They’ll probably be the best secondary we face this year,” Cooper said. “Two Pro Bowl cornerbacks. They’re a scrappy group. They take risks, they catch interceptions.”
Cooper had one catch for six yards against Washington. He was also the intended receiver when Carr’s first pass of the game was intercepted by Montae Nicholson.
Drop No. 6 came on the first snap of the second quarter with the Raiders trailing 7-0. It came on third-and-9. The Raiders ended up not converting a third-down the entire game, going 0-for-11.
There were four drops credited in Week 1 and another in Week 2. To his credit, Cooper was willing to answer questions about it, even though he’s obviously searching for answers. His drops as a rookie numbered as high as 18, a problem he’d seemingly rectified in 2016.
Cooper rejected the idea that coming in a little stronger and a little heavier to beat press coverage this season has played a factor.
“I mean, it can be a little frustrating, but I just have to go and fix it,” Cooper said.
During weekly appearance on 95.7 The Game, former Raiders quarterback and CBS analyst Rich Gannon said, “I know some of the drops are a concern. I just don’t think right now he’s playing with a lot of confidence.”
Carr conceded it’s difficult to know exactly what Cooper is thinking.
“He’s so quiet, I don’t know, it’s hard,” Carr said. “I don’t think he’s pressing or anything like that. I just think he expects so much more out of himself that he gets mad at himself. I’m looking forward to getting out here at practice and throwing him some balls today.”
Denver coach Vance Joseph is preparing for the Cooper who already has nine games of 100 or yards.
“He has got one of the best stop and start abilities that I’ve ever seen from a taller receiver,” Joseph said in a conference call. “He’s got really good ball skills. If he catches the ball you’d better get him on the ground because he can make guys miss. He reminds me of Jarvis Landry, who I was with in Miami last year, but with more speed. So that’s scary.”
Raiders coach Jack Del Rio is of a mind that talking about Cooper’s issues is a distant second to the receiver working through them.
“If I felt I could talk my way through it I’d be yapping all over the place,” Del Rio said. “It’s not something I can talk my way through. He’s just going to have to make the catch, do the work. I believe in him. I believe he will.”
— Cornerback Gareon Conley did not participate in practice because his shin injury. Conley’s trajectory has been a concern in that he was full in practice heading in to the Jets game, then went to limited last week. Conley played 48 snaps against Washington and struggled to stay with receivers in space.
Players who were limited included Cooper (knee), wide receiver Michael Crabtree (chest), safety Keith McGill (foot) and running back Jalen Richard (calf).
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