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October 9, 2013

Injuries keeping WR Amari Cooper down in 2013

Amari Cooper just hasn't been Amari Cooper in 2013.

A far cry from the stellar performances he piled up in the second half of 2012, Cooper's season has been defined by a pair of injuries and a lack of productivity leading to nine catches and 100 yards through Alabama's first five games.

Cooper had 27 catches for 528 yards and six touchdowns in the final five games last season. Cooper tallied single games with at least 100 yards five different times in 2012.

"(Cooper) is a hard worker, a guy who wants to be good and do well," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "I think it's very frustrating when you have something that's nagging you that you can't do things on a consistent basis like you'd like to do them."

Cooper, who exploded on the scene with 59 catches for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns as a freshman, missed a week of practice during the preseason with a foot injury. Days before Alabama's season opener, Cooper said he was at "95 percent."

"It's not painful, but I can feel it," Cooper said on Aug. 28. "It's something I can play through."

He caught four passes for 38 yards - his best game to date - against Virginia Tech in Atlanta, then caught two passes for 34 yards at Texas A&M. Next came a toe injury that forced him to miss the Colorado State game on Sept. 21. He caught three passes for 28 yards against Ole Miss on Sept. 28, then played sparingly against Georgia State last week and didn't get in for an offensive snap until the second quarter. He finished the game without a catch.

Considered a dangerous big-play threat last year, Cooper's longest catch has gone for 21 yards this season.

It's not because of double coverage, either. Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron said "the coverage has been the same as always" on Cooper this season, lending more to the idea that Cooper is not 100 percent.

"I'm not sure how much (the toe injury) is bothering him, but Amari's a little dinged up," said receiver DeAndrew White, who is second on the team with 15 catches. "I know he'll be there if we need him."

Cooper has a chance to get his season rolling against a Kentucky team that has been ineffective stopping the pass. While the Wildcats (1-4) rank third in the Southeastern Conference in pass defense, no SEC team has had fewer pass attempts (23.2 per game) against its defense. It has allowed a 147.95 quarterback rating to opponents, good for 13th among 14 SEC teams.

Saban is optimistic about Cooper being Cooper once again.

"I think the fact that we haven't played him as much lately, I do think he's getting healthy and he's had a really good week this week," Saban said. "So hopefully if we don't have a setback, he'll be able to continue to progress and do a good job."

- Reach D.C. Reeves at 205-722-0196 or at dc.reeves@tuscaloosanews.com

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