Three weeks into his career as a fullback, Green Bay Packers undrafted rookie Nic Cooper could be in line for some extra work during Thursday’s preseason game against Cleveland.
Those snaps likely will come at his new position, but Cooper said he’s ready if needed at running back where he rushed for 3,430 yards during his NCAA Division II collegiate career to become Winston-Salem State’s fourth all-time leading rusher.
In Green Bay, however, the 5-foot-10, 249-pound Cooper is transitioning to fullback. Prior to signing with the Packers, Cooper had only played running back dating back to when he was a kid.
Right now, Cooper is one of only three healthy back knowingly available for Thursday’s game against the Browns. Four others are dealing with injuries and newly signed Cedric Benson isn’t expected to play.
He’s also the only healthy fullback on the depth chart. Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said Tuesday he “isn’t anticipating” John Kuhn (sprained ankle) will play Thursday and Jon Hoese (hamstring) hasn’t practiced in two weeks.
“I feel like I’ve gotten to where I’m kind of getting comfortable in that role,” Cooper said. “I feel confident. I’m here for a reason. Obviously, they liked me enough to at least bring me here. The hardest part is missing all these guys with even (James) Starks now, but I’m ready. I’m ready for whatever.”
The Packers have two other running backs available for the game in undrafted rookie Marc Tyler and second-year pro Alex Green, who’s still on a rep count following reconstructive knee surgery last year.
During Tuesday’s practice, both Cooper and undrafted wide receiver Curenski Gilleylen, who played running back at Nebraska, both saw carries out of one-back sets in case they’re needed in an emergency against the Browns.
“I think if we got into the pinch there, we could put Coop in there and feel pretty good about it,” Packers running backs coach Alex Van Pelt said. “Coop is a guy who has run the ball in the past … hopefully it doesn’t come to that (due to injuries), but if it did, we have plan.”
When to comes to fullback, however, Cooper should see plenty of opportunities against the Browns. During the first few weeks of camp, Van Pelt has liked what he’s seen from the small-school standout, whom he credited with a few solid blocks during the first preseason game against San Diego last week.
However, there is an adjustment to made in moving to a new role in the backfield.
“It’s tough,” Van Pelt said. “It’s similar to taking a tight end that never put his hand down on the ground that was a split out tight end in these spread offenses and asking him to come in, and block a defensive end now. It’s tough. It’s a process. You can’t give up too early, you just have to keep working with them and help them develop, but it is new and different.”
Reach Hodkiewicz at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.