Near

If approximately nine seconds of Jonathon Cooper’s pass-rushing performance last Thursday is any indication, the rookie outside linebacker has the potential to be a game-wrecker for the Broncos. But he still has room to grow to get there.

Cooper had his would-be first NFL sack slip through his hands three times in the 17-14 loss in Cleveland. Instead of sack dances, Cooper settled for three quarterback hits on the Browns’ Case Keenum, and five total tackles, while filling in for an injured Von Miller.

“They say football is a game of inches and milliseconds, and it really is,” Cooper said. “I just feel like a lot of those plays could have changed the trajectory of the game and could have given momentum to the team. I have to look at it to see where I could get better and get there (to the quarterback) just a little bit quicker.”

Cooper played a season-high 56% of the defensive snaps Thursday after Miller left late in the first half with a sprained ankle. Cooper’s 40 plays were more than double his snap count in any of Denver’s first six games. Bradley Chubb going down early in the year (arthroscopic left ankle surgery Sept. 22) and then a hamstring injury to Cooper’s fellow rookie backup Andre Mintze in Week 6 cleared the way for Cooper to be the man of the hour when Miller got hurt.

Coach Vic Fangio said Cooper “did a pretty good job” in place of Miller, although both Fangio and Cooper lamented the momentum-shifting plays that Cooper left on the field at FirstEnergy Stadium. h2 data-curated-ids="" data-relation-type="automatic-primary-tag"">

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Two plays after Miller departed with less than a minute left in the second quarter, Cooper’s speed rush off the right edge overcame a tight end chip and then a poor attempt at blocking by Browns tackle Blake Hance. Cooper got to Keenum in 3.7 seconds, but Keenum ducked under Cooper’s would-be sack. After whiffing, Cooper tugged on Keenum’s pants from the ground, but the QB was able to throw the ball away at the feet of a nearby receiver before being tackled.

Then in the third quarter, Cooper burned left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. with another speed rush, getting to Keenum in about 2.8 seconds. Cooper was in position to get a strip-sack but the seventh-round pick didn’t get his arm on Keenum’s arm fast enough, and as Cooper wrapped the QB up to the ground, Keenum dumped the ball off to D’Ernest Johnson for 18-yard gain and a first down. Instead of Cleveland facing third-and-long, the Browns continued their march to a touchdown.

“Cooper came loose a couple of times in the rush,” Fangio said. “He got too high on the tackle where he could have sacked the quarterback there backed up prior to the half. He’s got to stay in the strike zone. I thought he could play the edge a little bit better and more consistently.”

Cooper had a final near-miss on Keenum late in the third quarter.

With Cleveland facing 3rd-and-3 from the Denver six-yard line, Cooper put a slick spin move on Wills to get to Keenum in 2.2 seconds. But Cooper was a hair late for the sack again, although his hit on the throwing Keenum forced an errant throw to Jarvis Landry, who was open on a slant in the end zone. While Cooper’s hit averted the TD on that play, an eight-yard sack would’ve been a lot more beneficial for the Broncos, as Keenum scrambled for a fourth-down conversion the next play. Then the Browns scored the game-winning TD.

Despite those few near-impact plays, Cooper remains encouraged about his development going forward. With Chubb and Mintze on injured reserve, Miller said he expects to be back for the Broncos’ game against Washington on Sunday at Empower Field, but Cooper will probably still get a healthy amount of snaps. That will continue his assimilation into the NFL after Cooper’s rookie season was nearly derailed by three heart ablation surgeries in May, causing him to miss most of the offseason.

“(Cooper’s) time is coming,” Miller said a couple weeks ago. “He just needs more experience. I expect that with each and every rep ‘Coop’ takes, that he just gets better and better and better and better until he becomes an elite pass rusher in this league.”

Source : https://www.denverpost.com/2021/10/24/broncos-rush-potential/

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