Fight drags Cooper issue back into spotlight
Just when it seemed Riley Cooper was out, Cary Williams pulled him back in.
For weeks, there hasn't been a peep about Cooper, the racial slur he used at a concert, or possible discord within the locker room.
The Eagles had weathered calls for Cooper's dismissal, and the fourth-year wide receiver had blended into the background as the regular season neared its start.
The Eagles fined Cooper an undisclosed amount of money the day a video surfaced of him using the racial slur, and despite pleas by some for further discipline, they did not suspend or release him. Cooper took a three-day leave of absence and sought counseling, the team said.
Former NFL coach Tony Dungy, now an analyst on NBC's Sunday Night Football, said that coach Chip Kelly contacted him during the Cooper incident. Dungy's son, Eric, played for Kelly at Oregon for three seasons.
"I wouldn't say we talk all the time, but we talk quite a bit and I'm very comfortable talking to him," Dungy said. "We talked about Riley's situation, and he had some good instincts, and that's all I told him. . . . 'You know your players, you know your team, and you know what's good for them. Don't worry about what outside people think. Do what you think is best.' "
A day after Cooper was punished, one prominent Eagle told The Inquirer that former coach Andy Reid would have doled out a stiffer penalty. Two other players said then that they didn't know if they could forgive Cooper.
Earlier this week, however, when a reporter asked some Eagles if there was any lingering resentment among African American players, the consensus was that time had healed those wounds.
"I don't think it's an issue," said defensive linemen Cedric Thornton, whose locker stall is next to Cooper's. "I think he made a mistake. People make mistakes. He apologized and it's over with."
During one interview, an Eagles player overheard the line of questioning and yelled at the reporter for asking about Cooper. He said that it was old news and that it was akin to "bringing up Mike Vick's story again."
Jason Kelce treaded more softly. The Eagles center was with Cooper at the Kenny Chesney concert at the time of the incident. Kelce has said that he didn't recall Cooper saying the racial epithet but has denounced what his teammate had said.
"It's tough me to say if it's still talked about in the locker room," Kelce said Wednesday. "It's not in front of me, and that's probably pretty fair to say. I don't think that I'm someone that they want to talk to about that.
"Riley's just a good guy. You can't help but like him in terms of his personality. Obviously, some of the things he said, some guys are going to have a problem with, and a lot of the guys are going to have a problem with what he said for the rest of their lives. But I think a lot of the guys have really forgotten about or it's in the back of their heads now."
It was unclear if Thursday's fight between Cooper and Williams was racially motivated. But the Eagles cornerback yelled more than once, "I'm not a n- you [mess] with" at Cooper after they were initially separated, according to a player who was nearby.
Cooper said that the scuffle had nothing to do with what he said in June and that there haven't been any incidents in the locker room.
"They've been normal," Cooper said of his teammates. "It's been great. Everything's completely 100 percent normal. We're all real close. Everybody. Cary included. He's my boy."
Williams declined to comment after practice. He briefly left the NovaCare Complex after practice but returned later in the day for meetings.
The fiery cornerback has gotten into several dustups over his career. The former Baltimore Raven got into it with Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson last year. Jackson described Williams as a "nag" and "overaggressive" on the field. One Eagles player called him "insane."
Quarterback Michael Vick and Jackson have been at the forefront in trying to smooth over any underlying issues that may have been percolating since the video of Cooper surfaced.
"We've got a game to play," Jackson said. "That happened over a month, a month and a half ago. So whatever the case may be, if individual people still have issues, then that's for themselves to talk about. But inside this locker room, everybody's on one page."
In the QB's head
Every quarterback in the NFL gets to wear a headset in his helmet during games. One coach talks to the quarterback, mostly to relay in plays.
Kelly will be the man in Vick's ear, although offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur did send plays in via the headset during the preseason, according to backup quarterback Nick Foles.
A coach can talk to a quarterback up until 15 seconds are left on the play clock. With Kelly's up-tempo offense, there aren't likely to be many times when the Eagles don't get a play off before the 15-second deadline. Does that mean Kelly can point out different defensive looks to his quarterback just before the snap?
"Technically, he could if he chose to," Foles said.
"But that's tough on the player," Vick added, "because we have to be able to play the game and play it the way that we play it. It used to happen to me a lot when I was younger and I used to make mistakes."
Vick said he rarely needs to hear the call from Kelly because he has already received it from assistants on the sideline who signal in the play to the other players. Kelly keeps it brief, Foles said.
"It's usually just a play-call and 'Go, go, go,' " Foles said.
More on Vick's head
Vick had never missed a game because of a concussion in his career until he missed five last season after he was hurt against the Cowboys in November.
Although he said he "just listened to the [Eagles] doctors" in terms of his return date, Vick intimated that he could have likely returned two weeks earlier.
"Maybe so, but we had just come off a win," Vick said. "Coach probably didn't want to kill the mojo with Nick. And I understood that."
Foles guided the Eagles to a comeback win over the Buccaneers on Dec. 2. Vick was not cleared for the following Thursday's game against the Bengals and the Eagles lost. But when he was deemed ready for the Redskins, Andy Reid announced that Foles would start ahead of Vick.
Vick suffered a concussion against the Falcons in September 2011 and left in the fourth quarter. He returned the following week. He has had two concussions in the last two years, something that bears watching this season.
Around the room
Twenty Eagles were polled to see if they were sleeping more after Kelly came aboard. The Eagles coach said in March that elite athletes need 10-12 hours of sleep a night. While he was unlikely to expect his new players to sleep as much, everyone said that he was more cognizant of his sleeping patterns. Most said they were sleeping 30 minutes to an hour more than they had and the average length was around eight hours. . . . After the first round of cuts last week, rookie Lane Johnson moved from one of the temporary stalls in the middle of the locker room to a regular one that was next to fellow offensive lineman Evan Mathis. But after final cuts were made, Johnson was in between receiver Damaris Johnson and practice squad safety Kellon Johnson. "Chip wants there to be camaraderie," the tackle said.