Stephen Cooper Embraces Role As Captain Of The Bolts Defense

Often times, the most steady of players get overlooked by the fans and the media, and the San Diego Chargers have a handful of these types. Quentin Jammer is probably the most underrated player on the Chargers, but he's got a few teammates who go about their business with little flash but are dependable and consistent. Put Stephen Cooper in that group. Since becoming a full-time starter, Cooper has become the leader of the defense, a favorite of the coaching staff, and a player who commands the respect of opposing offenses.

While the Chargers' defense has had some vulnerabilities, it isn't for Cooper not doing his job. Stephen Cooper is as productive as any other player at his position. His average stat line over the past three years? 100 tackles, 6.5 passes defended, 2 interceptions, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble.

Steady, dependable, consistent.

Through hard work and a never-quit attitude, Cooper inspires his teammates. Whether in practice, studying film, or lifting weights, he leads energetically by example and charisma. When asked if this was a role he embraced, Cooper says sees it as a natural transition.

"We've got a real young team, and I've been here 7 years now," explains Cooper. "I've been here through the ups and downs here in San Diego. I've been there, so it's kind of natural to take the role of a vocal leader on the defense."

As the captain of the defense, Stephen Cooper is tasked him getting his teammates in position on the field and making adjustments as necessary. His coaches allow him to audible and freelance a bit, but one of Cooper's biggest strengths is his discipline and commitment to the defensive philosophy.

"Ron gives me a lot of flexibility in changing the defense, depending on the situation of the game, says Cooper. "It's about fitting in with the scheme. Ron puts us in a great position to make plays. In a 3-4 defense the linebackers get opportunities to make a lot of plays."

The Chargers don't have many three-down defensive players, but Cooper is a guy who stays on the field regardless of down and distance. Due in part to injuries, as well as the Chargers having many specialists on the roster, there is a constant rotation going on in the defense. The Chargers employ a variety of looks and packages specifically designed to counter the play which they are expecting to see. This takes a tremendous amount of preparation to execute, and while it might make things more hectic on the sidelines as the coaches send guys on and off the field, Cooper is there ready to lead the huddle.

"Some guys are great run stoppers, some guys can cover better than others. It all depends on what package you are in and what the game situation is that determines who is on the field. It doesn't really matter who's beside me. I think Ron Rivera does a good job of rotating guys in on the d-line and defensive backfield."

But with so many packages and so few three-down players, doesn't it mean that the defense will suffer more breakdowns? Cooper doesn't think so.

"I think it makes it easier when guys have less things to think about," Cooper says. "When you rotate guys to play in a certain package, they can focus on their package and those defensive calls. Myself, I'm a guy that plays every down, every package and there is a lot more thinking involved, but I've been in this defense for years so it makes my job a lot easier and I can make the most of it."

The Chargers defense is young and they've faced some big challenges when they lost key players. But the expectations are extremely high here in San Diego, and when mistakes are made and players are in the spotlight for the wrong reasons, the patience of the fans wears thin quickly. However, Cooper assured me that players are indeed held accountable for their actions on the field by their teammates.

"Everyone is accountable and everyone knows what's expected of them," states Cooper. "It's about going out there, doing your job, and executing. Guys on both sides of the ball know what they are supposed to do and when they are called upon and they don't do it, they need to understand that they are going to be held accountable if they don't do their job."

Strong words from a respected leader like Cooper ring true inside the locker room. The Chargers are determined to improve their defense next year, and Stephen Cooper is going to be a key part of their return to dominance.

January 29, 2010

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Anonymous said... Jan 29, 2010, 5:53:00 PM

People that think we need to draft an inside linebacker are crazy. With Dobbins, Siler, and Cooper we've got plenty of depth

Anonymous said... Jan 30, 2010, 8:06:00 AM

Leadership?!? Wasn't Cooper one of the Charger players present in the group at Cromartie's champagne bottle toss? And wasn't he also named as one of the Charger players present at an "incident" or two at the Stingaree club? Hmmmm. I'm not sure about the Stingaree references, but I know for SURE he tested positive for steroid use here.
So I have no doubt that Stephen Cooper is intelligent, articulate, and moves very smoothly in the social arena of the Charger locker room, but sometimes..., he kind of comes across like a Bolt "Eddie Haskell" type, sucking up to Mrs. Cleaver/Dean Spanos while being less than genuine away from scrutiny by authority figures, perhaps even working both ends against the middle on the "character issue" front? I mean he's quotable and all that, for sure, but his silence on other issues regarding the Chargers D is deafening, both on and off the field. And *that* is either NOT leadership and/or he's simply not saying that much about his specific teammates in public. So while he's a fine football player and all that, but I'm not really so easily convinced he deserved all that many kudos for his "leadership" here.

Brian said... Jan 30, 2010, 3:31:00 PM

@ anonymous. I know "FOR SURE" that he DIDN'T test positive for steroid use since he's been on the team. It was ephedra.

However, after college, he was busted for POSSESSION of steroids, though testing showed he hadn't actually INGESTED any of it. He said he was planning on using it, to try to get a shot at the NFL. He was a Division I-AA guy, after all.

Personally, I think Cooper's a very good player and defensive play-caller. Despite other issues, he is a leader on the defense. I wouldn't think you'd want to try to upgrade the ILB area on our defense unless there were a truly great one left available at that point in the draft, the likes of Rolando McClain or Brandon Spikes perhaps.

Anonymous said... Jan 31, 2010, 12:05:00 AM

I think we're pretty set with our ILB group. Burnett is awesome, Coop is the D's QB, Dobbins is a run stuffer, and Siler's emerged as an all around play-maker and is only gonna get better.

Anonymous said... Jan 31, 2010, 8:37:00 AM

Don't forget about Dontarrious Thomas at ILB too.

Anonymous said... Feb 1, 2010, 6:35:00 PM

Brian - et al; I stand corrected, Stephen Cooper did NOT test positive for steroid use, contrary to what I wrote before; so apologies are in order. His possession of them (he pleaded guilty to having 1,262 of them, perhaps a heady amount for personal use?) in March of 2003, and
I don't personally know that he was tested for having ingested those then, since he wasn't in the NFL at the time and therefore they were not, technically, illegal for simple ingestion. His "sentence" came 1 month after he'd been signed by the Chargers, although his possession infraction predated that. There seems to somehow be some confusion...
Perhaps you know?
However, Cooper did test positive (as a Charger) for the stimulant ephedra, and THAT is why he served a four-game suspension, just as you said. Perhaps ironically, Cooper said he accidentally ingested the ephedra as the result of "recreational drug" use (non-specific), a term that alarms many but could mean almost anything, since ephedra is a widely used supplement (although illegal in the NFL for several years by then). Only later did Cooper claim to have used ephedra in a "tainted over-the-counter supplement" to enhance his workouts.
One extra note on my apology: The Union-Tribune DID (mistakenly, as it turns out) report "Five NFL players, including the Chargers' Stephen Cooper, are currently serving four-game suspensions for STEROID use." - dated September 24, 2008 - I read it, believed it without double checking it, and passed it on: my bad, and an extra apology to Mr. Cooper himself. He deserves better than what I did, even if he doesn't deserve any special treatment for coming from a Division I-AA school.

The Chargers will play the first four games of the 2008 season without inside linebacker Stephen Cooper, who has tested positive

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