Marcus Cooper saw the text message from his coach and immediately wondered what he’d done wrong.
This was a few years ago, before Cooper’s redshirt sophomore season at Rutgers, but he had been around the program long enough to know that getting a summons from Greg Schiano typically meant trouble.
“He said ‘Come see me,’” Cooper said with a laugh, “and I’m like ‘What I do now?’”
Nothing, it turns out. But the news still wasn’t good for the 6-foot-2 Cooper, a prolific high school receiver who grew up wanting to be like Jerry Rice and Randy Moss.
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“Coach just brought me in the office and was like ‘We’d like to see you at the corner spot — we think you could be good at it,” Cooper said. “I was shocked.”
And more than a little concerned. Cooper didn’t have a catch in six games during his first two years at Rutgers, but he’d been a dominant receiver in high school, racking up the second-most career receiving yards (3,014) and touchdowns (43) in Connecticut.
Cooper had never played on defense, let alone cornerback, not even in high school.
“(I was) a little upset, you know?” he said. “I thought I was a great receiver, like every individual should think about themselves. Just (for them) to say that I wasn’t able to do it at receiver, to get the job done … I was a little hurt by it.”
But three years later, Cooper — a backup cornerback the Chiefs claimed at the 53-man roster deadline in early September — is glad he listened to Schiano’s hunch.
Cooper filled in for injured starter Brandon Flowers and turned in an eye-popping performance in the Chiefs’ 31-7 win over the Giants on Sunday, deflecting a pair of passes and staying out of trouble against the Giants’ high-powered receiving duo of Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks.
“No time to be nervous,” Cooper said. “I had to go out there and perform at the corner spot. I couldn’t think about doing anything else other than doing my job.”
Flowers said that’s the way Cooper, a seventh-round pick of the 49ers in April’s draft, has attacked his latest opportunity with the Chiefs.
“He’s fearless out there, and you’ve got to be like that at cornerback,” Flowers said. “He’s a young guy that wants to compete.”
That doesn’t surprise Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, who saw Cooper during the Chiefs-49ers preseason game.
“We watched him a lot when he was working against our offense, trying to figure out what kind of talent this guy has,” Sutton said. “Probably more important than talent is what kind of competitiveness does he have … is he tough-minded, is he going to be able to go out there if a guy beats him on a route, is he going to back off or get right back on him and play? He’s shown us that he’s highly competitive.”
Add that to his physical profile, 6 feet 2 and 192 pounds, and Cooper, who ran a 4.45 40-yard dash and posted a 39 1/2 vertical jump at his pro day — is exactly the kind of young player the Chiefs are always seeking to groom at the position.
Even his veteran teammates can’t help but root for him.
“We’re his biggest fans in the DB room,” Flowers said. “We love to see all our boys have success.”
Cooper says his past experience as a receiver helps. He says he can easily spot hints that show what route a receiver is trying to run.
“Just the stems they take on their routes, you know, the depths … just how individuals look for the ball, things like that,” Cooper said.
But Cooper’s future role with the Chiefs is murky. There is a clear hierarchy in front of him at cornerback, where Flowers, who is optimistic he will be healthy enough to play this week, and Sean Smith — another high-paid veteran — have a stranglehold on the outside starting jobs.
That leaves Cooper to get reps as a backup on the outside or perhaps in the slot, where Dunta Robinson, another high-paid veteran, plays.
“He has some versatility,” Sutton said of Cooper. “We have worked him inside and we have to wait and see what the plan is, but he has some skill level in there.”
Whatever the plan is, Cooper is cool with it, much like he was when he made the move to a position he’s eventually grown to love.
“I was a little worried about the switch, felt that maybe things wouldn’t go my way in football at the time,” Cooper said. “But like I said, I’m here now and I’m happy about it.”