There are no hidden reasons for Xavier Cooper's steady increase in playing time. The injury to Desmond Bryant that initially paved his way to the field is long in the past.
"He's done his job. It's that simple," Browns coach Mike Pettine said. "He's a guy that's earned the trust."
Since he was listed as inactive for the Browns' first two games, Cooper has seen his playing time steadily increase. Last week at St. Louis, he played the second-most snaps (26) of any Cleveland defensive lineman.
The athletic, 6-foot-4, 300-pound third-round pick from Washington State is "different than probably everybody else" in the Browns defensive line room, defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil said. There have certainly been growing pains as he adjusts to the NFL, but the threat he poses as "a guy who can make a couple of splash plays in the backfield" is invaluable to a Browns defense that is looking to put more heat on opposing quarterbacks.
"I've done some good things," Cooper said. "I think the coaches, from what they told me, are proud of how I'm playing. Obviously, I have to get better. I think now it's just getting out there and getting comfortable. It's about me letting it loose and making plays and doing the things they drafted me for.
"I got a lot of expectations for myself and I want to help this team win. If I can get back there and get the quarterback and make plays in the backfield and be disruptive, then I think we've got a chance to be successful."
Cooper's improved performance has forced Pettine into some tougher decisions on game day, and one could be on the horizon Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals. With the potential return of linebacker Craig Robertson, cornerback Joe Haden and safety Tashaun Gipson, Pettine could have to decide between carrying a fourth safety or a sixth defensive lineman, which he labeled a "luxury," on his active roster.
Cooper, of course, has provided more than just a warm body.
"When that sixth was Coop, he's played well enough to at least be in that argument – 'OK, this week, it's down to are we going to carry four safeties? Are we going to carry the sixth d-lineman?'" Pettine said. "All of those position arguments come up, and he's done a good job of making that a tough decision."
Cooper, who flashed in the preseason with three sacks, admitted his initial inactivity led to some frustration. It felt like freshman year all over again.
Cooper put his head down, worked harder on the practice field and waited patiently for his opportunity to come. That mentality hasn't changed even though his opportunities have.
"I've got to be better with my hands. I'm athletic, so I've got to use my athleticism more and more when I face better guys," Cooper said. "Some of these guys are such good technicians, I've got to use what I can to beat them. I'm trying to work on that every day and master my craft."
A look at Browns uniforms, from the franchise's inception to current-day.