For months, UA coach Rich Rodriguez has talked about how he has planned to use the tight end position more this season.
Well now he has one less player at the position to choose from.
Junior Michael Cooper, a 6-5, 246-pound native of The Woodlands, Texas, has left the program.
Rodriguez confirmed his departure after the team’s practice this morning at Kindall/Sancet Stadium.
The split seems like an amicable one.
“Coop is exploring his options,” Rodriguez said. “He may stay in school here and not play football or he may transfer somewhere else. He’s a great young man—a good student and whatever he wants to do, we’re going to support him and wish him the best.”
Cooper’s departure leaves former quarterback Josh Kern as the only scholarship tight end on the UA’s roster. Terrence Miller, listed as a receiver, and a natural wideout, has been working at tight end and will continue to do so. He will likely get more reps at that position now.
Cooper played in 24 games in two seasons for the Wildcats as a backup tight end and was a contributor on special teams. Cooper told me earlier in camp he expected to have a role this season similar to Taimi Tutogi’s last season.
A tight end did not catch a single pass last season in Rodriguez’s offense. However, the UA has received commitments from two tight ends for 2014 in Scottsdale Chaparral standout Trevor Wood and California high school product Darrell Cloy. The coach obviously wants to use the position more, but has to find the right type of athlete to fit the profile he’s looking for.
Some other news, notes and quotes from this morning’s practice.
• The team was scheduled to practice tonight, but Rodriguez has scrapped that plan. Instead, the UA will have a long walk-thru this afternoon in the heat. Rodriguez said he wants to get the team out on the field for about an hour and run through special teams, offense and defense and will also begin to introduce NAU plays to the team.
• Left tackle Mickey Baucus has a sore ankle and sat out practice this morning. Chris Putton, who has been playing guard this camp, subbed in for Baucus at tackle. Eric Bender-Ramsey took Putton’s spot at right guard. It doesn’t seem like Baucus’ injury is a long-term one.
• Rodriguez said receiver David Richards continues to progress from offseason leg surgery. Richards hasn’t practiced this camp and is still on crutches. However, the coach said they’re hopeful to have Richards begin running around next week or the week after and possibly have him back by mid-September.
• It sounds like junior college transfer Steven Gurrola is starting to get some distance in the competition for the starting center job. Rodriguez said Gurrola has had a couple of good practices back-to-back. The coach has also been pleased with Carter Wood’s development. Putton can also play some center if the team is in a pinch.
Some quotes from after practice:
• Rodriguez on getting after his team early in practice: “We had to get on them early to get them cranked up. Once we got them going, the intensity was better after six or seven periods. I come out here fired up because I’m ready to go from day one. I was probably to get on them no matter what happened to get the juices going because I had an idea we weren’t going to practice tonight. They didn’t know that because it was on the schedule.”
• Rodriguez on injured WR Austin Hill: “It’s not just that he’s a great player, but the leadership he can teach some of these guys. He’s been trying to do it from afar in the locker room and stuff like that. When school starts, he’s allowed to come to the meetings. He’s a sharp guy. He’ll be ready to go.”
• Rodriguez on signing safety Tellas Jones so late: “We had a couple of spots open because we had a couple of guys that didn’t qualify, so we were looking and knew we needed help defensively particularly in the back end. Tellas was a guy we knew a little bit about, but after we watched the film and found out he was available, we said, ‘shoot, this could be a pretty good pick up.’ He’s learning really quickly. Normally guys in that position that come so late will have a redshirt year and learn, but I think he’s going to play for us in some situations and some special teams.”
• Wide receivers coach Tony Dews on Davonte’ Neal and Cayleb Jones: “The best thing about them is they both have great attitudes and they both work hard. They’ve come in and the kids have accepted them and I think that’s because they see how hard they work out here. Neither one of them has come in here with a sense of entitlement like someone owes them something. They’ve both been humble kids and working their butts off and that’s easy to accept into a team when they come in and work so hard and don’t act like a superstar. Those kids are working hard. They are very talented guys.”
• Dews on senior Richard Morrison, who is back working with the receivers after playing some defensive back in spring and early in fall camp: “Richard is a tough kid. Richard brings an element of experience. He’s working. We just keep poking him. He has all those ailing things, hips and knees and ankles. Sometimes he acts like he is 60-years-old. He’s been good for the program. He can help the young kids because he’s played so many different spots.”