BLOOMINGTON – David Cooper believes. He speaks with power, purpose and, yes, pride. He's an Indiana linebacker by job, a leader by passion, pushing a Cream 'n Crimson vision years in the making.
Cooper's twitter account radiates the kind of full-bore, testosterone-driven approach necessary to thrive when big bodies collide.
And they will collide this season, with Cooper in the middle of it. The difference, perhaps, is that when the dust settles, Hoosiers such as Cooper will still stand -- tackle made, pass defended, third-down stop achieved.
If you believe.
Did we mention Cooper does?
And so the fifth-year senior tweets that, “Everybody wanna be a gladiator until it's time to do things a gladiator does.” His twitter self-description offers “gladiator heart” and “wolf mentality.”
Football games are won by such things.
Last year this was good enough for Cooper to lead IU in tackles with 85, one less than in his first season in Bloomington after transferring from junior college. That was during the Hoosiers' defensive Armageddon, when opponents scored and gained yards at a video-game pace.
But now things have changed. Cooper is in a new system, one that, in theory at least, delivers “controlled chaos,” and he not only has to know the 3-4 scheme intricacies, he has to help teach it to the newcomers. Monday's first day of practice provided a full-bore opportunity.
“Guys like me have to make sure all the young guys stay on top of what they're supposed to be doing and learning the system,” he said. “I'm comfortable with it and comfortable enough to start teaching the young guys and everybody else."
That's exactly what defensive coordinator Brian Knorr wants to hear.
"David needs to step up from a vocal leadership role," Knorr said. "Players acknowledge him as a leader and a guy who has made plays in the past. He's one of our most experienced guys. He needs to embrace that situation. His time is here."
That also seems to be true of the much-maligned defense, and Cooper can't wait to show case it.
Yes, he said, the unit can be -- will be -- special.
“We believe that. We've been believing that since the Purdue game.
“Coach Mal was let go, we picked up Coach Knorr and he broke down the whole 3-4 scheme. Everybody was excited and happy. It was like, where has this been.”
Translation: defensive coordinator Doug Mallory was fired, Brian Knorr was hired to replace him, bringing a 3-4 scheme to replace Mallory's 4-3 approach, and this thing is gonna work.
But the problems that allowed 38.8 points a game, easily the worst in the Big Ten, weren't approach as much as execution. When the Hoosiers weren't missing tackles they were blowing coverages and botching assignments.
The key messages coming out of the spring -- pay attention, make plays.
“We focused on being a more consistent defense,” Cooper said. “We would play real good defense, but then couldn't keep it going. We have to stay consistent and make sure everybody is on the same page.
“A lot of the games we lost and the yards we gave up came because of bad communication and missed assignments. A lot of people blamed it on youth, but I felt there was no excuse for it. If there's a problem, get in the film room. I don't see that happening this year.”
Quarterback Nate Sudfeld agreed. He said the defense caused him all sorts of problems in the spring, will in August camp and then again during the season.
“I'm very optimistic about our defense,” Sudfeld said. “They made it really tough on us in the spring and summer. It's been exciting for me, to go against a 4-3 for so long in practice, and then switch to a 3-4, it's made me have to work as a quarterback. Different spots are open down the field and you have to understand where they'll be open, and the kind of looks they can put out there. We have some good young defensive players who will step up. I will be surprised if our defense doesn't ball out this year.”
In other words, just like Cooper, he believes.
For now, in early August, when all things are possible, it's a start. That leads to the next step.
Make it real.