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season when a combination

Amari Cooper's upward career trajectory took a major detour last season when a combination of drops [url=http://www.indianapoliscoltsteamonline.com//t.y.-hilton-jersey]T.Y. Hilton Jersey[/url] , injuries and overall poor play plagued him all season.

After topping 1,000 yards receiving in each of his first two seasons in the NFL for Oakland, Cooper didn't even reach 700 yards last season in a fall that was emblematic of the Raiders descent from 12 wins in 2016 to just six a year ago.

That all contributed to the move to bring Jon Gruden back for a second stint as coach and Gruden made it clear earlier in the offseason that fixing Cooper would be a priority and that he expected him to be a focal point of the offense.

"It was cool. Obviously as a receiver, you want to go out there and make plays for your team and win," Cooper said Tuesday. "So for him to say that, it really meant a lot to me. I'm just ready to come out here and work and prove that I deserve to have those opportunities."

Cooper was on a star track after being drafted fourth overall by the Raiders in 2015. He had 72 catches for 1,070 yards as a rookie and then 83 receptions for 1,153 yards in year two, becoming the third player to start his career with back-to-back seasons with at least 70 catches and 1,000 yards receiving after Odell Beckham Jr. and Marques Colston.

But he took a major step backward last season when he had just 48 catches for 680 yards with nearly one-third of that production (210 yards) coming in a Thursday night win over Kansas City. Cooper had more than 70 yards receiving just one other time all season, when he gained 87 of his 115 yards on a single catch in the season finale.

Cooper caught just 50 percent of his 96 targets last season for the third-worst mark in the NFL last season, according to SportRadar.

"I wouldn't say it was great," Cooper said. "Definitely some things I need to work on coming into this year and some things that I have been working on so that I can be better on for this season."

Holding onto the ball will be a big key. He dropped three passes in the opener and five in the first four weeks, according to SportRadar, to get his season off on the wrong track. He reduced those as the season went on [url=http://www.chicagobearsteamonline.com/anthony-miller-jersey]http://www.chicagobearsteamonline.com/anthony-miller-jersey[/url] , but was unable to perform consistently as the Raiders offense struggled as a whole with Derek Carr at quarterback.

But drops have been a recurring problem for Cooper in his career with his 30 dropped passes since entering the league in 2015 ranking worst in the NFL. The Raiders have 135 as a team in that span, also ranking last in the league and a priority for Gruden to fix.

"Sometimes the quarterback throws the ball in there early. Maybe he didn't take the proper drop. Sometimes the receiver might lack concentration. There's a lot of reasons. You have to catch the football," Gruden said.

"We have to catch the ball better. We have to improve. Our receivers have to rise up, play better than they've ever played. We've made changes there in this core and they have to obviously take the torch and run with it."

Cooper is part of an offense that should maximize his talent this year. In 11 years as a coach, Gruden had a 1,000-yard receiver every season, including two in 2001. The Raiders also bolstered their receiving group by signing Jordy Nelson to replace the departed Michael Crabtree and adding a deep threat in Martavis Bryant, whose game-breaking speed should create more opportunities underneath.

Having two talented receivers by his side also should allow Cooper more opportunities to play from the slot, where his deft footwork and route running should make him a difficult matchup.

"We have a whole lot of plays even right now this early," Cooper said. "We have something for everything. Every defensive look, we can audible to something to get in the right play for any defense."

NOTES: The Raiders traded a conditional seventh-round pick to the New York Jets for quarterback Christian Hackenberg, a second-round pick in 2016 who has never taken a snap in the NFL. ... Edge rusher Khalil Mack remains out of the voluntary offseason program while seeking a long-term contract. ... S Obi Melifonwu, a second-round pick in 2017, remains sidelined by a hip injury and Gruden said he's not close to returning. "I haven't seen much of Obi except in the training room," Gruden said.

JACKSONVILLE [url=http://www.greenbaypackersteamonline.com/...mad-wilkerson-jersey]Muhammad Wilkerson Jersey[/url] , Fla. (AP) — It wasn’t too long ago that veteran receiver Donte Moncrief was buried on Jacksonville’s depth chart.

Moncrief had fallen behind Marqise Lee, Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook and even rookie DJ Chark after missing a week of practice because of a sore knee.

Now, four weeks later and following a devastating injury to Lee , Moncrief might be the team’s go-to guy heading into the season opener at the New York Giants.

He certainly is the unwitting leader of that position group and will be counted on to fill a void created when Lee hurt his left knee in the preseason and was placed on injured reserve.

“The young guys, they look at me as an older guy,” Moncrief said. “I just told them, ‘Anybody can be great.’ It just takes the time and passion to go out there and want to be great. Go out there and make plays every day, not just in a game, also in practice, so you can build the trust when it comes down to game time.”

The Jaguars trusted Moncrief enough to give him a one-year, $9.6 million contract in free agency. The deal was fully guaranteed, a move general manager Dave Caldwell felt he had to do with so much uncertainty at receiver.

Jacksonville figured Allen Robinson was gone, was unsure Lee would re-sign, and planned to part with Allen Hurns. The team also had no idea it would get Chark in the second round of the draft.

So the Jags targeted Moncrief [url=http://www.indianapoliscoltsteamonline.com//denico-autry-jersey]Denico Autry Jersey[/url] , hoping his big-play ability would help spread out defenses designed to slow down Jacksonville’s run-first approach .

The 6-foot-2 Moncrief caught 152 passes for 1,875 yards and 18 touchdowns in four years with Indianapolis. He missed 11 games the last two seasons because of shoulder and toe injuries. He also endured quarterback chaos, with Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett, Matt Hasselbeck, Scott Tolzien and Josh Freeman throwing him passes.

“Just having a chip on my shoulder to go out and show what I actually can do and have a healthy year and come out here and compete and show the league what I’ve got,” Moncrief said. “I know what I’m capable of and I’m going to hold myself to it.”

Jacksonville is counting on it now, especially without Lee.

Still, the team believes Cole, Westbrook and Chark have star potential.

Cole was an undrafted rookie from tiny Kentucky Wesleyan in 2017, a guy admittedly awe-struck by playing in packed NFL stadiums. He was barely noticeable on the field early, catching eight passes for 111 yards in the first seven games. He finished with 42 receptions for 748 yards and three touchdowns, plus a few huge plays in the postseason .

Westbrook, a fourth-round draft pick from Oklahoma in 2017, missed the first nine games of his rookie year because of a sports hernia [url=http://www.dallascowboysteamonline.com/bill-bates-jersey]Bill Bates Jersey[/url] , caught 27 passes for 339 yards and a TD in seven games.

Cole and Westbrook were in the starting lineup late last season, and it wasn’t an ideal situation.

“There were times last year where you kind of got that look in the huddle where it is like, ‘Hey, I have no idea what you were talking about,'” quarterback Blake Bortles said. “Looking at them this year, they are running out of the huddle before I can finish saying the play because they know what they have.”

The Jags expected those guys to make strides in their second seasons, but they didn’t want to have to rely on it.

Moncrief, meanwhile, welcomes the pressure of having to perform, especially on a one-year contract that essentially has him prepping for free agency again.

“Everybody in that room can play,” Moncrief said. “It’s just about stepping up when you’re ready to go. … I just tell them you’ve been doing this since you were little. It’s just football. Make plays, catch the ball, go block, and let everything else fall in place.

“We’ve got to be special in that room.”

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