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Amari Cooper reveals the secret behind his deceptive route-running abilities

The Cowboys star wide receiver has an off-field passion that helps his on-field game.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys Training Camp Handout photo

Amari Cooper comes with so many athletic gifts. For a receiver, he has excellent size at 6’ 1” and a solid build at around 210 pounds. He has speed as evidenced by his official 4.42 40-time, even though many felt he ran faster than that.

There was a major discrepancy between the official 40-yard dash time listed for Alabama star wide receiver Amari Cooper at the NFL scouting combine and what he actually ran at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Although Cooper is officially listed with a 4.42 clocking, according to NFL sources, scouts clocked him as fast as 4.31, 4.35 and 4.37 seconds on their stopwatches. NFL teams go by their own times in determining draft prospects’ speed.

Size and speed go a long way in making an NFL receiver. Of course, you got to have hands, something that Cooper has most of the time, although drops have been an off-and-on issue. But if you really want to be elite in the NFL at receiver, you have to master the art of route-running. No other descriptor is more associated with Cooper’s name than route-runner. This is what he’s become known for - a master technician.

Cooper shares with ESPN the basis for some of his route-running mastery. It all goes back to a game he learned as a child.

One of the most enviable traits of Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper’s game is his mastery of deception.

“You don’t want to let the person you’re playing against know what moves that you’re going to do next,” Cooper said. “You have to think three moves ahead.”

“It’s one of the biggest sayings in chess.”

Wait ... chess?

Yes, chess. Cooper credits some of his ability on the field with a game he was taught in elementary school. But it was after he arrived in Oakland when his passion for the game was re-ignited. He noted that players in Oakland were playing chess against each other on their phones, and he joined in.

He found a kindred spirit in wide receiver Rod Streater. The two played a lot of chess against each other, and Streater noticed how Cooper’s chess game compared to his football game.

Deceptive, shifty, versatile. Sounds all too familiar to any NFL defensive back who has attempted to defend a Cooper double move, or to someone who has sat across from him over a chessboard.

“He just sits there with a blank face,” Streater says. “He’s deceptive. He’s quiet, but then out of nowhere, he’ll do something out of the ordinary, hits you with a sluggo [slant and go route]. He’s a quiet assassin. That’s how I’m going to describe him.

“Just like how he plays on the field.”

In Dallas, Cooper has found a new partner for his chess passion - cornerback Chidobe Awuzie. The symmetry is good as Cooper and Awuzie also battle on the field at practice. Cooper is the more experienced player and in an Instagram post stated that Awuzie is on the losing end of a 21-5 record in their chess matches.

Awuzie compares Cooper to the knight in chess, a piece that is allowed a freedom of movement not afforded to the other pieces since it can move in an L-shape and jump over pieces.

As for the Cowboys’ season ahead, Cooper maintains the mentality he has adapted as a chess player continues to sharpen his skills as a receiver — especially that one familiar facet that applies directly to his meticulous route running. It’s one that chess rival Awuzie is well aware of.

“In real life, he’s the knight. That’s the most deceptive piece. His release, his game, he lulls you to sleep, his moves, his suddenness, all that stuff, it’s very comparable. The way he plays chess is very deceptive.”

Cooper agrees.

“You have to make the guy who’s guarding you think that you’re doing something different than what you’re actually doing. I’m always trying to make it to where he thinks he knows what I want to do, but he doesn’t. You have to be deceptive. And creative.”

Copper’s quiet nature and thoughtful approach to his game stands in contrast to many of his wide receiver peers. The position has long been known for loud, outspoken players who are flashy. Cooper is the opposite, but his game still thrives. A cerebral assassin.

A recommendation to check out the whole article at ESPN, it’s a good read on Cooper.