Raiders begin Phase 3 of offseason program
As receiver Amari Cooper ran through drills during the Raiders’ offseason practice Tuesday, one of the most prolific receivers in NFL history watched nearby.
Calvin Johnson, the former Detroit Lions star and six-time Pro Bowler, is in Raiders camp this week for organized team activities as a guest of offensive coordinator Todd Downing. Cooper learned of the arrangement when he showed up Monday.
“First reaction was, ‘He’s huge,’ ” Cooper said. “I can understand why they called him Megatron.”
Johnson often used his 6-foot-5 frame to dominate opponents during a nine-year career in which he recorded 731 catches for 11,619 yards. Downing’s five seasons as a coach in Detroit included the 2012 campaign in which Johnson set the NFL single-season record with 1,964 receiving yards.
Cooper is not the same physical specimen at 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds. But entering his third season in the NFL, the 22-year-old said he’s taking advantage of Johnson’s willingness to give advice to the Raiders’ receivers.
“I’ve just been asking him a whole lot of questions,” Cooper said. “How does he run certain routes, what was his regimen like and how was he so productive? He’s a really cool guy. He’s been giving me some really great feedback. So he’s nice to have around.”
Specifically, Cooper said that Johnson “gave me some really good tips on how I can run some of my routes.” He already admired the way Johnson beat defensive backs by going up to catch the ball at its highest point.
Johnson’s final season in the league in 2015 was Cooper’s first. Already, though, Cooper has accomplished something Johnson never did. He is one of three receivers, along with Marques Colston and Odell Beckham Jr., to have at least 70 catches and 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first two NFL seasons.
Both times, though, Cooper’s production has tailed off late in the season. A foot injury hampered him toward the end of his rookie year. He started last season with 52 catches for 787 yards and four 100-yard games through the first eight weeks, but finished with only 33 catches for 376 yards over his final nine games, including the wild-card loss.
“Of course it’s been on my mind,” Cooper said. “But it’s a good thing to me, because I feel like I can go nowhere but up. I know that I can have a lot more production than I’ve had in the past two seasons. So we’ll just see.”
Cooper said he’s focusing this spring on “little details” like catching the ball at its highest point and securing it before he turns upfield to avoid drops. Head coach Jack Del Rio said he believes Cooper is motivated to get better despite his early success.
“I know he’s just scratching the surface of what he wants to accomplish in this league,” Del Rio said. “Having a guy like Calvin here as we’re getting started in these OTAs, being able to share some of the insight of what he experienced playing that position, is very valuable for us.”
The Raiders have a dubious connection to Johnson, having passed over him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft in favor of quarterback Jamarcus Russell, who compiled a 7-18 record in three seasons as a starter.
At 31, Johnson doesn’t look far removed from his playing days. Del Rio joked that some Oakland coaches wondered if Johnson was mulling a return like that of Marshawn Lynch, the Raiders’ new running back who came out of retirement after sitting out last season.
“I saw (Johnson) yesterday and asked him if Detroit still had his rights if he came out of retirement,” offensive tackle Donald Penn said. “He was like, ‘Man, they aren’t going to let me go anywhere.’
“But it’s good, because I see him over there talking to Cooper and (Michael) Crabtree, and some of the young guys. Calvin is one of the best to do it, so having him out there picking those guys’ brains and giving them advice is great.”