LINCOLN — The offseason rise from an occasional contributor to a probable starter in Nebraska's defense hasn't gotten to Corey Cooper's head.
He won't allow it to.
All of the in-practice improvements Cooper's made over the last six months have transformed the junior safety into an expected leader and playmaker on the back end for the Huskers. It's exactly the role he's been working for since arriving at Nebraska.
But getting a day's worth of first-team reps or hearing the occasional complimentary shout-out from a coach doesn't cut it for Cooper. He insists there's more for him to prove.
“That doesn't mean anything to me,” Cooper said. “I've got to do it on Saturday.”
That sentiment holds true, Cooper says, even when he starts reflecting on the growth he's already made.
He had that one-game stint at cornerback before vanishing from the lineup as a redshirt freshman. Last year, Cooper worked off and on as a dime back against spread offenses (Andrew Green split time with him there toward the end of the regular season).
But now Cooper's back at safety, his position of choice. The first spot he lined up at when he started playing the game. On his way to becoming a Blackshirt.
“I haven't accomplished what I've wanted to accomplish,” Cooper said. “Every day I'm older. I'll never get complacent. I've got goals set high, and I haven't reached them yet. Every day's a grind for me.”
His dedication seems to be paying off.
It wasn't until the spring when Cooper said he started spending the majority of practices at the safety spot. Coach Bo Pelini said the staff moved him around early in his career because it wanted to best utilize his skills — and NU had veterans in place at safety back then.
All those ever-changing responsibilities left Cooper convinced that he'd be playing catch-up throughout the offseason as he adjusted again to safety. He often lined up in the box or opposite slot receivers last year, not 10 yards off the line of scrimmage.
So he watched lots of film, picking the brains of fellow safety Harvey Jackson and defensive back veteran Ciante Evans. Anything to get comfortable.
Turns out, though, that Cooper's settling in so quickly at safety now because of the diverse assignments he once held as an underclassman.
“The more you know of what's happening around, the easier it is to play your spot,” Pelini said. “Coop experienced some success because of that.”
It's especially true at safety, where Cooper says he's in charge of lining up the guys in front of him on his half of the field while also carrying out pass coverage and run-stopping responsibilities once the ball is snapped.
“I played it before, so I know what's happening in front of me,” Cooper said. “It all makes sense back there at safety.”
The ability to understand and apply concepts on the fly — that was the first thing Cooper mentioned when asked about the difficulties of the position. Tackling in space was another.
But he embraces the challenge. Being a safety for Nebraska is, in fact, his “dream.”
It's just that Cooper knows earning a job is the first step. He has to earn the right to keep it now, and he's looking forward to the chance this fall — starting with the season opener against Wyoming on Aug. 31.
“It's been a long time coming,” Cooper said. “Come next Saturday, it's going to be real exciting.”
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Video: Quarterback Taylor Martinez
Video: Wide receiver Quincy Enunwa
Video: Coach Bo Pelini