Six hours of practice to prime time: Amari Cooper era begins in Dallas

FRISCO, Texas -- Only five practices. Just three full practices.

When the Dallas Cowboys break the huddle against the Tennessee Titans on Monday night at AT&T Stadium, wide receiver Amari Cooper and quarterback Dak Prescott will have had about six hours together on the practice field.

Since acquiring Cooper from from the Oakland Raiders on Oct. 22, the Cowboys have tried to teach him their offense. Coach Jason Garrett, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and Prescott have all called Cooper a fast learner.

But what can the realistic expectations be for a live game?

Prescott had a full offseason program, training camp and two preseseason games to get accustomed to the receivers who joined the team this past offseason -- Allen Hurns, Deonte Thompson and Michael Gallup.

They even had informal workouts before the season. Yet when the season began, the chemistry between the quarterback and wide receivers was lacking. And it has not gotten that much better through seven games.

Hurns has 13 catches for 158 yards and a touchdown. Thompson has 12 catches for 103 yards. Gallup has 10 catches for 190 yards and a touchdown.

The Cowboys were so desperate to give Prescott help in the passing game, and try to make a run at the playoffs, they gave up their 2019 first-round pick to pry Cooper away from the Raiders.

The last time the Cowboys made a big trade for a wide receiver came in 2008, when they sent first-, third- and sixth-round picks to the Detroit Lions for Roy Williams and a seventh-round pick. In the 10 games Williams played that season he never had more than three catches or 51 yards in a game.

Prescott, however, is ready to prove he and Cooper will have the chemistry Williams and Tony Romo could never quite figure out.

“I mean a great player like that, he’s going to get space, he’s going to get open,” Prescott said. “That’s when we need to get him the ball.”

The Cowboys opened the season with a rotation at receiver. In recent weeks, they scaled that back in part because of necessity due to injury (Terrance Williams, Brice Butler) and because it was not effective.

In the past two games against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Washington Redskins, Gallup played 59 and 56 snaps. Hurns played 57 and 54 snaps. Cole Beasley, the Cowboys’ leading receiver, played 42 and 53 snaps. Thompson has played 22 snaps combined in the past two games.

The Cowboys are not easing Cooper into action. Linehan said he will start and play a lot but he’s not sure how the snaps will play out against the Titans.

“People respect him, they know who he is,” Linehan said. “He’s a guy that can hurt the defense in a lot of ways with his skill set.”

Cooper had two practices on the Cowboys’ bye week that lasted less than an hour. Last weekend, Cooper went back to the Bay Area but he met up with wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal at Fallon Sports Park to walk through plays and situations.

Cooper spoke with Prescott over the phone on multiple occasions. When he got back to Texas, he and Prescott spent a little extra time on the field to get a feel for one another.

“All the small things matter,” Cooper said. “Communication. It doesn’t matter what you are doing. You have to be on the same page.”

It’s not by accident that Prescott and Cooper are separated by just one locker inside The Star. In New England, Tom Brady’s locker is right next to that of his newest receiver, Josh Gordon.

“Anytime we're sitting here or in meetings we go over different things, signals, whatever it may be,” Prescott said. “But he’s a sharp guy. He’s not a guy who’s going to say he’s got it and just go over it one time. He’s already picked up stuff and he asks in-depth questions about our offense. He’s a smart guy.”

It’s one thing to talk about it. It’s another to do it on the field, even in practice.

“We went out and executed and the ones we didn’t we cleaned up and had another chance on that play and executed it the way we wanted to,” Prescott said. “It’s heading in the right direction. Excited to get out there in live action when it’s all real.”