FRISCO, Texas – Not everyone gets a dress rehearsal for a new job, but that's essentially things worked out for Jonathan Cooper and the Cowboys.
Cooper is one of the newest members of the Dallas offensive line this spring – but he isn't that new. It's easily forgotten in the shuffle of an NFL season that Cooper signed on last January. He spent a week with the Cowboys, up until their playoff exit.
It was a short stint, but it made plenty of difference when it came time for Cooper to enter free agency in March.
"I felt like just being surrounded by a group of guys who are willing to help you and a coaching staff who is looking to push you and help you improve, you couldn't really beat that," he said.
In talking to Cooper, who is entering his fifth year in the NFL, the expertise of both the Cowboys' coaching staff and their offensive linemen was a topic of continued discussion. Plenty of praise is heaped on this team's front five from the outside, but Cooper learned quickly that the praise is justified.
"These guys aren't just hype. They work hard -- one of the hardest-working group of guys," he said. "It's all-encompassing, they bring everybody in and treat everybody right – but they're working for everything, all the accolades that they've received, and they definitely deserve it."
The hope is that Cooper can be part of that in 2017. He was a highly-touted draft pick himself as the first guard off the board in the 2013 NFL Draft – seventh overall to the Arizona Cardinals. Injuries never allowed him to live up to that draft status, as he missed his entire rookie season with a broken fibula. In all, he's appeared in just 29 games in four seasons.
If he's looking for a supporting cast to help him elevate his game, though, Cooper couldn't ask for a better location than Dallas. During the offseason program, he has worked primarily in two positions – left guard, next to All-Pro Tyron Smith, and center, where he is learning from arguably the game's best in Travis Frederick.
"I have been working a lot of center, so my goal is to become more comfortable and just learn," Cooper said. "Playing either guard, you learn the scheme and all that – but I feel like, being with Travis, you really get a bigger picture."
As has been the common refrain during Jason Garrett's tenure as the Cowboys' head coach, position flex would be a big bonus as Cooper looks to earn a roster spot at training camp. The more jobs a player can handle, the more valuable he is.
"That's a really important thing for him to be able to do – the versatility to play center and guard," Garrett said. "The challenge for a guy like him is just consistency with the ball, and he's certainly improving."
There have definitely been some growing pains during the past few weeks in the form of fumbled snaps and missed assignments. But having spent time on four different rosters, Cooper said one of his favorite aspects of the Cowboys' offensive line is the commitment to the cause.
"Like I said, they don't have egos. They're not putting you down if you make mistakes," he said. "They're really helping me out a lot. I really feel like it makes a world of difference, and I've just got to stick with it and keep learning."
Cowboys offensive line coach Frank Pollack told Cooper that players with a good work ethic can outperform their talent level – which makes the combination of talent and work ethic on the Cowboys' offensive line even more impressive.
As the offseason program gives way into training camp, Cooper said he wants to meet that standard.
"Having that talent level and then honing those skills, being a coachable player and just continuing to be coached up and improved – it gives you the ability to progress and be a heck of a player. I'm excited about that," he said.