Clemson University

Cooper switches from DB to linebacker

Clemson running backs James Davis, right, and C.J. Spiller work on drills during the Tigers' first football practice.
Clemson running backs James Davis, right, and C.J. Spiller work on drills during the Tigers' first football practice.

CLEMSON -- Nearly 10 pages of notes went in Scotty Cooper's trash can Friday.

In preparation for his promising new career as a free safety, Cooper had jotted down tidbits worth remembering from several secondary meetings.

During a team dinner the night before Saturday's opening fall practice, he learned he would begin practice at linebacker, the position where he starred at as a senior at Lake City High School.

"It fits my strengths," Cooper said. "I thought they had probably just put me at safety because that's what I'd talked about wanting to play. It's not a big deal. The techniques I've learned are going to help me."

While Cooper did not figure to play a prominent role for Clemson this season, his transition to safety was worth monitoring because coaches expect him to be an impact recruit.

However, a sequence of moves culminated in Cooper sharing second-team repetitions at strongside linebacker.

Clemson uses its strongside linebacker as a blitzer, and when incumbent starter Tramaine Billie went down with a season-ending injury last preseason, the linebacking corps lacked a replacement with comparable skills. The loss forced the Tigers to shelve a significant portion of their schematic package.

Billie is back, but defensive coaches were adamant about preventing such a scenario from happening again.

Another recruit with a similar skill set, former Byrnes linebacker Stanley Hunter, was scheduled to join sophomore Jeremy Campbell at linebacker and give Clemson a pair of viable alternatives.

But Hunter failed to meet NCAA qualifying standards. The staff gained the flexibility to move Cooper when reserve quarterback Michael Wade was moved to safety to fill a vacancy left by Sadat Chambers, who was converted to tailback.

Cooper (6-foot, 200 pounds) often drew comparisons to Billie (6-1, 210) as an undersized linebacker who could fly and hit.

"We just felt like he's a guy we can bring off the edge, somebody who can go and make something happen," said Ron West, who coaches the strongside linebackers.

"It might be a little easier for him to get on the field early now, too, because he doesn't have to learn all the checks in the secondary."

Like most of Clemson's signees, Cooper arrived in early July to train with veteran teammates, meaning he spent portions of workouts doing drills specific to a safety's pass coverage.

He said learning those techniques will be invaluable for his new spot, where he frequently will be responsible for chasing receivers running curl routes or offensive players used as pass-catchers in the flats.

Cooper said he managed to avoid embarrassing himself as a member of the third team during Saturday's opening practice, but his inexperience went on full display when given more responsibilities Sunday.

On one play, Cooper was in the backfield before realizing he was responsible for covering a receiver downfield.

• EXTRA POINTS: Clemson coach Tommy Bowden continued to praise the evolvement of junior defensive tackle Rashaad Jackson, who has trimmed his body fat from 24 to 19 percent and lost nearly 20 pounds. "The biggest thing is he's got some leadership skills I didn't know he had," Bowden said. ... Offensive coordinator Rob Spence on quarterback Cullen Harper: "His commitment has been amazing. He has totally remade his body."