Skip to main content


Browns DL Xavier Cooper knows ' next man up' applies to him

There wasn't much room for any additional motivation. Xavier Cooper was pretty maxed out by the time he began his summer break.

And then Desmond Bryant, one of the Browns defense's most consistent players and a lead veteran in Cleveland's defensive line room, went down with a season-ending pectoral injury.

"If Des was here or not, it's time for me to step up and fill a big role on this defense," Cooper said. "That's what they drafted me for. I'm just going out here working every day and maximizing my opportunities."

Entering his second NFL season, the opportunity for Cooper to hold down a significant role on the defense has never been bigger. Bryant's void at the five-technique along Cleveland's defensive line is big enough to require multiple "next men up," and Cooper is at the forefront.

Harnessing what worked during a rookie season in which he collected 19 tackles and 1.5 sacks over 14 games and what prevented him from having more of an impact has been atop defensive line coach Robert Nunn's agenda since he arrived earlier this year.

"The whole group has really bought into what we're doing, and Xavier is one of them," Nunn said. "He's got some explosiveness, very good takeoff, very good get-off, an aggressive player that's really trying to buy in and work on what we're asking him to work on.

"He sometimes shoots first, names second. We have to get him a little more dialed in, but the guy's got some ability and has some talent and we're pretty excited about it."

After two days of closed practice, the Browns welcomed fans to the training facility in Berea for the third day of Training Camp.

The third-round pick out of Washington State made an immediate impact around this time last year, as he collected multiple sacks during the preseason and was lauded by coaches for his quick first step. An immediate role, though, wasn't exactly available, as Bryant and veteran Randy Starks held down the end positions and Cooper needed time to develop consistency on the snaps when he wasn't dropping the quarterback.

Cooper was inactive for the first two games of his rookie season. His playing time steadily increased, but it was a dramatic change for a player who had never spent much time on the sidelines in his past.

"It's like when you go into any profession and you get hired at a job, you're going to have your ups and downs, you're learning the nuances of the NFL," Cooper said. "I think I struggled a little bit but I gained some knowledge and experience. That's how you become a great player in this league is getting more experience.

"Right now I'm getting experience working against Joel Bitonio every day and just getting experience to go out there and use that confidence on Sundays."

His teammates have noticed a change in demeanor.

"He's been working his butt off," linebacker Christian Kirksey said. "Last year you saw sparks of him making plays. This year, he's into his playbook, he's doing the extra work and I have all the faith in Cooper. He's a type of guy that he wants to be better, he wants to do work, he wants to help the team, he wants to make plays. You can tell he's hungry."

And that noticeable hunger makes those around him feel comfortable with the plan in place to replace one of their top players.

"I have all the confidence in Coop," defensive lineman John Hughes said. "Everybody knows that everybody has to raise their game up just because there's a lot more at stake right now and this team kind of counts on the D-line to push forward."

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content