Amari Cooper feels like a rookie again, but this ‘God-given talent’ has injected life back into the Cowboys’ offense

FRISCO -- Amari Cooper doesn't feel at home quite yet in North Texas. Just over three weeks since the Oakland Raiders sent the 24-year-old wide receiver to Dallas in exchange for a first-round pick, Cooper is still living in a hotel and getting acclimated to a new city and a new team.

"It just feels like I'm a rookie all over again," Cooper said.

Cooper hasn't looked like a rookie in his first two games with the Cowboys.

Picking up a new offense has appeared seamless. In the process, he's injected some life into a group that was among the league's worst when he arrived. In two games, the two-time Pro Bowler has 11 receptions for 133 yards and a touchdown.

What his presence on the field has done for his teammates, particularly running back Ezekiel Elliott, hasn't gone unnoticed.

The running game has started to look elite again.

Elliott's career rushing average is 4.7 yards per carry. When Cooper has been on the field the last two games, Elliott has carried 25 times for 158 yards, a 6.3 yards per carry average.

"Any time you get to add a guy like that to your team, you're going to get better," Elliott said. "I think he's done a great job stretching the field. We haven't really hit on a deep ball yet, but they have to honor that because they know he can do that."

The deep ball is the only thing missing. The Cowboys have moved Cooper all over the field, having him run eight of the nine routes on the tree.

The most success has come on the dig route. Cooper has caught four passes for 60 yards heading toward the middle of the field.

Cooper's favorite routes are the double moves. He's caught two passes for 17 yards on those plays, which included his four-yard touchdown against Tennessee.

"Obviously you can get more separation on those routes and they often lead to touchdowns," Cooper said. "But I really like everything in the route tree."

The key to Cooper's success is his ability to create separation with precise route-running.

It didn't take long for rookie wide receiver Michael Gallup to experience his first eye-opening moment watching Cooper run routes during practice.

"The first time I saw him run a slant I was like, 'I need to learn how to do that.' He just broke the guy off so bad," Gallup said. "He's a good player. I'm definitely learning things from him even if he doesn't know it. I'm always watching."

Running smooth routes has always come naturally to Cooper. He struggles to explain how he became so effective. From a young age, he just had success emulating players he watched on TV.

"Every route they ran, every play that was made, I always felt like I could do it," Cooper said. "It was never like, 'Dang, that's crazy.' It was always like, 'Wow, that's a good play, but I think I can do the same thing.'"

His explanation to running a good route is simple: Make defensive backs think you're running a different route than you're running.

"It's not hard for me to do obviously because I have the natural God-given talent to do it," Cooper said of his release off the line of scrimmage. "It's like asking LeBron [James] if it's hard for him to dunk a ball. It's easy."

The separation he's creating has provided larger throwing windows for Prescott. According to Next Gen Stats, the average target separation for the Cowboys before Cooper arrived was 2.9 yards. With Cooper, it's 4.0 yards, which has helped Prescott's passer rating go from 87.4 in the first seven games to 101.2 in the last two.

Those stats have particularly paid off on third downs. Ten of Cooper's 11 receptions have gone for first downs. Dallas was 31.8 percent on third downs before Cooper. They have converted 48.1 percent since.

Cooper says his rapport with Prescott continues to build, adding that they sit next to each other in meetings and are in "constant communication."

"One thing about the receiver and quarterback relationship is that it's a symbiotic relationship," Cooper said. "I try to make his job as easy as possible. My way of doing that is getting as much separation as possible so he can literally throw it anywhere in my vicinity and it will still be considered a good throw.

"His job is the inverse of that. If I'm not getting wide open, he has to be as precise as possible. If you ask him, that's what his job is. If I'm not open, throw the ball as precise as possible so it will still be a good ball and I can catch it."

So about that deep ball.

They have yet to connect on a pass that has traveled more than 17 air yards. Two misses particularly stand out from Sunday night's game in Philadelphia. Cooper got behind his defender for what would have been a 24-yard touchdown up the right sideline in the third quarter, but the ball slipped out of Prescott's hand as he was attempting to pass.

"No excuses," Prescott said. "It was a touchdown that we missed."

The other came in the second quarter when Cooper was streaking up the left sideline, at least a step ahead of the defender. It might have been a 40-yard score but the ball appeared to be overthrown. Cooper took the blame, saying he should have come off the line faster instead of trying to get a read on the cornerback.

"It's something we are consistently talking about," Prescott said, "what he's got to do earlier in the route and what I've got to do. It's just little things to clean up. But we're not far off.

"Once we get it, it's going to be fun."

Jon Machota, Staff Writer,  DMN

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