TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Amari Cooper isn’t ready to declare his Alabama career a success just yet.
The second-ranked Crimson Tide star is one of the nation’s top wide receivers and a highly regarded NFL prospect, but he’s also coming off a season when nagging injuries, frequent double teams and inconsistency contributed to a rough start.
So motivation isn’t a problem.
“I don’t know if I’ve had a lot of success,” Cooper said. “I don’t look at it like I’ve had a lot of success. I’m always anxious to do more. Break records.”
Teammates and coaches have praised his focus and work ethic leading up to the Aug. 30 opener against West Virginia in Atlanta, and Cooper was the leading vote getter on the media’s preseason All-Southeastern Conference team.
While it remains unclear who will be throwing passes for Alabama, Jacob Coker or Blake Sims, Cooper seems a safe bet to be catching many of them.
He’s the headliner of a deep receiving corps that also includes players like Christion Jones and DeAndrew White, plus tight end O.J. Howard. Cooper got excited when he looked at numbers produced by some of new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin’s receivers at Southern California like Marqise Lee and Robert Woods.
Kiffin’s early impression of Cooper, meanwhile, wasn’t about the 6-foot-1, 210-pounder’s talent but his work ethic during offseason workouts.
“I thought it was a really hard workout we were doing but he worked out two hours before that,” he said. “What you realize about Amari is there really isn’t any off-field stuff. Amari is completely dedicated to being the best football player that he can. He’s completely focused so he’s great to work with. He wants to be great and he also wants to expand his game.”
Statistically, Cooper took a step backward last season, especially early. Plagued by foot and toe injuries that sidelined him against Colorado State, he was largely a nonfactor in the Tide’s first five games before totaling 15 catches and 299 yards in the final two, including a 99-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter against Auburn.
His 45 catches, 736 yards and four touchdowns represented a drop-off. Cooper had broken Julio Jones’s Alabama freshman records with 59 catches for 1,000 yards and set a school mark with 11 touchdown receptions.
Cooper also had some drops, and he said he’s gotten better at mentally bouncing back from such mistakes.
“It gets under my skin less now than it did before,” Cooper said. “Drops are a part of football too. You just have to play the next play but you have to practice like you want to be perfect. But once you drop that ball, just play the next ball. You’ll be all right.”
Alabama defensive backs who face Cooper routinely in practice praise his explosiveness and quickness.
Jarrick Williams calls him “amazing” and offers some not so helpful advice to opposing cornerbacks.
“You’ve really got to try to get your hands on him to try to affect him,” Williams said, “but that pretty much doesn’t do anything anyway.”
Landon Collins calls Cooper one of the Tide’s hardest workers and said he usually finishes first or second in runs.
“His mind-set is to be the best player he can be, be that top-notch receiver, catch every ball and try to score,” Collins said. “That’s his mind-set. If it’s in the air, he’s going to get it.”