With so much attention focused on Laremy Tunsil and his presumptive status as the No. 1 overall pick, Ole Miss fans and draft media have largely overlooked the man who so valiantly replaced Tunsil during his seven-game NCAA ban.
Fahn Cooper is a quality pro prospect in his own right, projected by CBS Sports as a fourth- or fifth-round pick at the end of this month. This is a guy who did enough during his two seasons as a starter in Oxford to earn an invite to the NFL Combine, where he put up solid numbers and built on his impressive performance at the East-West Shrine game back in January. Attention from NFL teams has been modest—Cooper's recent trip to San Francisco is his lone official meeting so far—but he has a definite chance to hear his name called come draft weekend.
I sat down with Cooper to discuss, among other things, his draft prep, playing a new position at the next level, the difficulty of replacing Tunsil during the NCAA investigation, and who he thinks will start for the Rebs at OT this year. Check it.
So heading into last season, you're preparing to be the starting right tackle. At what point did you first learn you might be starting on the left side?
Right about a week before the first game.
And from then on, was is really week-to-week or did you guys have a sense Tunsil was gonna be out for an extended period?
None of us really had any idea. Even Laremy didn't. It was a tough situation and we pretty much played it by ear. It was week-to-week. Every week they'd tell me I was playing left, basically until a week or two before the A&M game. Basically I just assumed I was playing left every week.
Is that a tough situation for you and your O-line teammates, not to know who's playing where?
Not if you prepare. Last season there was kind of the same situation when we played LSU. Laremy hurt his shoulder [against Auburn] but the next week he was practicing and we all kind of assumed he would play. I played right the whole week. And then like right after we warmed up as the game's about to start they told me I had to play left, that L.T. can't go... But that was a fun game, I feel like it was one of my better games when I look back.
After that, in the offseason, I feel like it benefited me. You know, I played left for three straight years at Bowling Green and junior college. So the offseason going into this past year, 2015, I went through the extra stuff and worked on right and left just in case I had to play both. So I feel like this season I was a lot more prepared for it. Not that I knew that I was gonna have to play it for seven straight games. [laughs] If I had known that I would have worked even more.
How different are the two positions?
I mean they're the same. The only thing that's really different is that the plays are reversed—there are some plays you only run to the left or you only run to the right. The difficult thing for most people is that when you play in one spot and take all your reps there, you get comfortable. That's why I say it's important to practice at both spots, just so it feels comfortable.
Do you think all of that flipping back and forth during your college career is something that helps your NFL resume?
I think it does. That's something that a lot of our coaches kept telling me, the fact that I showed I can play both positions. That I can swing and play right and left instead of being honed in at just one spot.
Do you think you can play either side at the next level?
Yep. I can even see myself playing guard. That's something a lot of teams have asked me and I think some teams just assumed it. I remember during the season I'd see stuff that said "guard, Fahn Cooper" and I'd see my name and it'd just say guard, a position I've never played before. Even a guy that called me from the Jets was asking if I'd ever played center and taken any snaps before. So I just feel like people see me as a guy with the physical ability to play in the NFL and that I can fit into just about any position.
Do you think you fit into any particular scheme in the NFL?
I think I can fit into any scheme. At Bowling Green and at junior college, I was working more out of a three-point stance and we liked to pound the ball a lot more. And then being at Ole Miss the last two years, we liked to spread it out and pass the ball, always out of a two-point stance. So I had a mix of both and I feel like I'll be comfortable either way.
So Tunsil finally comes back and we see an immediate uptick in both the running game and statistical efficiency of the offense at large. What difference did he make?
To be honest—and not to take anything away from L.T. because he always plays well—I think the biggest impact was more of a mental thing... It was just kind of like, "Hey, we got our guy back and our offensive line is back at full mass."
Now Ole Miss has to replace both of you. Who do you think will be the starting offensive tackles for the Rebels next season?
I think one of the young guys that's real talented at guard and one of my close friends, Rod Taylor. You know at the end of the season when we were preparing for the bowl game, they had him at left tackle. He was always super athletic at guard and I feel like he has all the tools he needs for tackle. I know he's not practicing in the spring but I feel like mentally, in terms of learning all the plays, he's taking a lot of steps forward. I was just down there speaking with him so I feel like he can definitely be solid at left tackle.
They've been playing Sean Rawlings at center but he's really good at right tackle. I think one of the most understated things about last year is how well he played at right tackle while I was playing left tackle. As a freshman playing the first seven games, starting against Alabama and all of these other teams, he did more than hold his own. He was getting after it.
Alex Givens, he's a big, strong kid. And if not him, Greg Little. I haven't seen him play but I've met him before and he's a very mature kid. As mature as he is, I definitely feel like he'll have an opportunity to play as a freshman. I know Greg has already learned a lot of our offense. He's been mentally preparing himself, more so than most of these kids, certainly more so than I did coming out of high school. [laughs] And our offense is fairly simple, it's more about effort and getting after people. But obviously getting prepared is one thing and getting prepared for the speed of the game is another.
Tell me about the NFL Combine. What was that experience like?
It was a cool experience. I didn't know what to expect... I tried to remind myself that it's one of those things, you've earned the opportunity to be there. I tried to enjoy it as much as I could.
What was the one thing that stood out to you at the Combine?
It sounds weird, but it's when you get all the gear. It's like man, I've never had people just trying to give me so much stuff.
Do you have any expectations heading into draft weekend?
Not really. If I was blessed enough to be drafted, it'd probably be anywhere from the second round to the seventh round. Really I'm just looking for an opportunity to play. Whether you're the first pick of the first round or you go undrafted, when camp comes you have to earn your spot on the team.