Marcus Cooper figured he might get a chance at extended playing time Sunday.
Top cornerback Brandon Flowers’ knee had been giving him trouble all week, and someone was going to have to replace Flowers in the Chiefs’ man-heavy defensive scheme when he was officially ruled out against the Giants.
“We're kind of short at corner, so I knew there was the possibility of me getting in,” Cooper said. “I just took that mind-set into practice all week and just went from there.”
Cooper earned his first career start as the Chiefs opened with extra defensive backs on the field. But once veteran Dunta Robinson, the Chiefs’ slot corner to this point, got burned at one of the outside positions by Giants star Victor Cruz for a 69-yard touchdown in the second quarter, the Chiefs’ coaching staff decided to pair Cooper on the outside with starter Sean Smith almost exclusively.
Let’s just say it turned out pretty well for Cooper, a 6-foot-2, 192-pound rookie from Rutgers. He received the most extended action of his four-game career against a star-studded receiving corps featuring Cruz and Hakeem Nicks and finished with a tackle and two pass deflections.
“That’s a tough receiving corps and they’re going to get you every once in a while, but he did a nice job and kept battling,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “He’s new at that position. He was a wide receiver some in college at Rutgers, but I was proud of him.”
Most important, Cooper didn’t get beaten deep for a quick-strike play, which is always a threat because of the single-high coverage Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton prefers.
“That’s how we pride ourselves, on defense and on this team, period,” said safety Kendrick Lewis. “If one guy goes down, the next guy up steps in, and we don’t miss a beat. Everyone’s a starter on our team because you don’t know when your time is gonna be.
“Marcus Cooper's time was (now), and he was able to rise up to the occasion.”
Not that there weren’t some overwhelming moments for Cooper, a converted wide receiver who started 13 games for Rutgers last season and had one interception, two fumble recoveries and blocked a kick.
He was taken by San Francisco in the seventh round of April’s NFL Draft and was picked up by the Chiefs shortly before the season started, but he wondered whether he would really get a chance to show his stuff in extended stretches.
“You know, when you're a rookie, people don't expect for you to come out and do as much, especially when you’re drafted lower,” Cooper said.
That’s why Cooper feels so fortunate to have landed with a team that values his skill set and is giving him an opportunity to prove his worth.
“I’m a bigger guy, you know, a longer guy,” Cooper said. “(This system) always works for those … kind of guys, with long arms and stuff like that. That definitely helps me out a lot.”
It certainly did Sunday.
“He displayed it out there today ― that shows he fits in this scheme,” Lewis said. “He came out and competed his butt off.”
But Cooper, who had a handful of defensive reps in the Chiefs’ first three games, said he kept things simple in an effort to keep his nerves under control. His only focus when he went out on the field was playing his technique and doing his job, and now, he just hopes he will continue to get more chances to do the same.
“This whole experience is an ‘Oh, wow’ moment,” Cooper said. “I worked hard to get here and I'm finally here. I'm not settled (for) that. … I'll just keep going and hopefully I can continue to get better.”