Copper wants to make it as a Cowboy
By KEVIN TRAVIS, Sports Editor
Catching a star.
That's exactly what Terrance Copper is hoping to do, as the former Washington Pam Pack great prepares for life as a member of the Dallas Cowboys. Copper, who set numerous records last season with the East Carolina Pirates, is excited about his chances with the Cowboys.
He's already looking forward to stepping onto the field at Texas Stadium, wearing the big star on the side of his football helmet.
"It's going to be a big experience for me," Copper said. "I remember walking out onto the ECU football field for the first time. I'm getting that same feeling about walking out onto the Dallas Cowboys' field for the first time. It's going to be really exciting."
The 6-0, 206-pounder, signed as a free agent, is competing with nine other receivers, including veterans Keyshawn Johnson and Terry Glenn. Antonio Bryant had been in the mix, but a feud with head coach Bill Parcells pretty much put an end to that. It's likely Bryant will be traded before the start of the season.
"All the talent level is about the same," Copper said of the receivers. "Once you get to this level, the talent really levels out a bit. It's basically just making plays. You just have to make the big plays in practice and in the preseason games."
So did Johnson give Copper any advice?
"He told me that this is a business; you have to stay healthy and keep your mouth closed - just play," Copper said.
Interesting advice from a player who does more than his fair share of chatting it up on the field.
"That's kind of crazy coming from him about keeping your mouth closed," Copper said with a laugh.
Copper knows he'll have to make a solid impression during the upcoming training camp to land a spot on the final roster. Before he heads out to training camp, Copper plans to work out with former ECU teammate and Green Bay Packers' fullback Vonta Leach in Greenville to stay in shape.
"I'm going to be lifting every day, running and doing a lot of stretching," Copper said. "You have to prevent injuries. I'm going to be doing a lot of hamstring work because, once you get fatigued, you start pulling hamstrings. I'm just going to work on staying in shape."
Copper heads back to Dallas on July 28, then flies out with the team for the start of training camp July 31 in Oxnard, Calif.
"I've talked with some of the veterans and they say it's going to be hard," Copper said. "It's going to be really tough. You get up at like 6 (a.m.) and you don't get back to your bed until like 9 or 10 (p.m.), so it's going to be all day long, every day. On top of that, you have preseason games.
"I have to look at it that it's my chance to go in there and show them what I can do. I'm looking forward to it. I've never been to California so it's going to be a new experience, on top of being with the Cowboys."
Copper was prepped on what the Cowboys' coaches expect during the team's rookie camp and minicamp.
"Minicamp went really well," he said. "We had rookie camp right after the draft and that was pretty tough because we only had a couple receivers there doing all the plays. When the veterans came and we had another camp, it kind of eased up a little bit because we had more receivers."
While Copper said he thought he performed well, the coaches don't exactly tell the players that.
"There's a lot of mind games," Copper said. "They really don't let you know how good you're doing. They don't want you to get into a comfort zone, so they're always stressing the stuff you have to get better at."
Copper said that it's important to stay healthy and understand the playbook.
"If you stay healthy, you have a good shot of making it," he said. "I study that playbook. I always studied it on my own, not just in the meeting rooms when we go over plays. If you don't study the playbook at night before you go to sleep, and in the morning, and while you're waiting to get taped, then you're going to have a hard time learning the plays and remembering the plays."
A plus for Copper is that he's also seeing looks with the special teams.
The more versatile he is, the better shot Copper has of making the team.
"I'll be doing kickoff returns, punt returns, gunner on punts and some running the corners on returns," he said.
The gunner is the player that is known as the "suicide" guy, the player that gets down the field first on punts who is responsible for tackling the returner.
"You just have to do something to stand out," Copper said. "(Being a receiver and special team's player) is a bonus. All the rookies have to play special teams. If you can return punts and return kickoffs on top of being a receiver, then that's an extra plus for you.
"You just want to go out there and prove yourself."
Copper knows that he'll really get a chance to shine in the preseason games. The Cowboys' first exhibition game is August 14 at the Houston Texans.
"In minicamp we got some reps but not like what we're going to get in training camp," he said. "In training camp, they want to see what the young guys can do. The veterans have pretty much already proven themselves. There will be a lot of opportunities to make plays in the preseason games."
Copper certainly made a number of plays for the Pirates last season. He caught 87 balls for 897 yards to set a new ECU record for receiving yards in a season. His 87 receptions established a new ECU single season mark and ranks as the fourth-most ever in a season by a Conference USA player.
He led C-USA in receptions and ranked seventh in the final NCAA statistics with 7.25 receptions per game as a senior. Copper finished his career ranked second on the school's career receptions list with 139 and fourth on the all-time yards receiving list with 1,683. He became the first ECU wide receiver to earn All-Conference USA accolades after being named second team all-conference.
Copper will be hoping to make even bigger plays with the Cowboys and impress his coaches, including The Tuna.
"Coach Parcells is the type of coach that, he just wants you to do what he asks of you," Copper said. "If you do that, you have no problems. The only time you have problems is when you try to do your own thing, or when you get away from what he's telling you to do.
"He's a good coach and a great guy to be around."
ECU head coach John Thompson believes Copper has a chance to make some noise in Dallas.
"If Terrance gets in there, I think he has a good shot," Thompson said. "He's a guy that can catch the ball. To me, he looks like a natural fit with Bill Parcells and the Cowboys' offense."
Copper could see his first regular season NFL game Sept. 12 at the Minnesota Vikings.
And when he walks out onto that football field as a member of the Dallas Cowboys, Copper will have caught that star.