Patriots

Patriots take a step toward fixing offensive line problems with Jonathan Cooper

Arizona Cardinals guard Jonathan Cooper (61) against blocking during their September 27, 2015 game against the San Francisco 49ers. Rick Scuteri/AP

COMMENTARY

The Patriots had a depth problem on the offensive line last season. With a blockbuster trade on Tuesday, the team took a step toward fixing it.

In exchange for Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones, the Arizona Cardinals sent a 2016 second-round pick as well as a former first-round pick, guard Jonathan Cooper.

Thus far, injuries have derailed Cooper’s career. The seventh overall pick of the 2013 draft got off to a rocky start to his career when he broke his fibula in the Cardinals’ third preseason game of his rooke year. He missed the entire season. The 26-year-old started just 11 games from 2014-15, and battled toe and wrist injuries last year.

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According to NEPatriotsDraft.com, the 6-foot-2, 311-pound guard did not take a visit with the Patriots before the 2013 draft, and their coaches did not meet with him at the Scouting Combine. Of course, that doesn’t mean he was completely off their radar. Although the Patriots did not have any pre-draft contact with Cooper, they had a high grade on him coming out of North Carolina, according to Mike Loyko of NEPatriotsDraft.com.

From the sound of his scouting report on NFL.com, a high grade is easy to understand: His tangible skills are a match for the Patriots’ system, and he has a lot of the qualities the organization typically admires in linemen.

Tough to beat in pass protection, possesses foot quickness, bend, and arm extension to mirror. Excellent mobility behind the line, regularly pulls to the left and right. Excellent at adjusting quickly to negate moving targets on the second level. Springs out of his stance to reach linebackers in the run game or to jump inside of tackles to seal off a rushing lane.

He isn’t a mauler, like some guards who are a little bigger than him. But he has good feet, which will serve him well in the Dante Scarnecchia school of offensive line play. It’s much easier to work up with a good base than to improve a shaky foundation. He can also get out in front of a play, leading the way as a blocker at the second level against linebackers and defensive backs on screen passes and perimeter runs. The Patriots haven’t had a guard who excels in that area since Logan Mankins left the fold before the 2013 season.

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Of course, this all assumes that Cooper remains the same player he was before the draft, even after all those injuries slowed him down for three years with the Cardinals.

Benefiting his cause, Cooper has started games at left guard and right guard. He could feasibly fill either role, depending on how the competition shakes out on the offensive line. Along with adding some needed draft capital, creating competition along the line is the one thing this trade has accomplished. The competition at guard will be fierce: Cooper joins Tre’ Jackson, Shaq Mason, and Josh Kline among the linemen who will be vying for the two starting spots on the inside.

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Cooper will not win the job simply because he was a former first-round pick and acquired in a high-profile trade. Similarly, Jackson and Mason won’t retain their mantles as starters simply because they were starters as fourth-round picks last year (as if draft slotting has ever been an assurance of anything with the Patriots). And Kline will not be named a starter simply because he has the most experience within the Patriots’ system.

Ultimately, the jobs will go to the men who help the Patriots get closer to their best combination of five linemen.

The 2015 Patriots season, game by game

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