TAMPA — Riley Cooper hasn't caught a pass in the NFL since 2015, hasn't been on a roster in 15 months, but the former Clearwater Central Catholic and Gators star took a humbling first step back Friday.
He is working out as a tryout player at Bucs rookie minicamp.
"I'm excited about it and trying to make the best of it," said Cooper, who wore a No. 17 jersey at practice. "I'm a hometown Tampa boy, so it's cool to be back."
Cooper, 29, spent six years with the Eagles, peaking with an eight-touchdown season in 2013. That landed him a five-year, $22 million contract, but his production dropped off. After catching 21 passes and two touchdowns in 2015, he was cut loose.
The phone didn't ring again until the Bucs called this spring. Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter even mitigated that, making it clear the Bucs had promised him a tryout before the draft, when they used a third-round pick on Penn State's Chris Godwin, effectively taking away one of the available receiver jobs.
"I really didn't get to watch him too much today, to be honest with you," Koetter said. "I'll go in and take a look at it on the tape. … He's an experienced guy. We committed to him before the draft that we were going to bring him in, a guy with size and experience. We're looking to increase our depth at wide receiver. Now we did address that in the draft and in free agency, but we'll see how it goes."
And in a week where the national conversation in sports has been about the use of a racial slur against Orioles outfielder Adam Jones by a fan at Fenway Park, it's relevant that Cooper is also known for getting videotaped using the N-word at a concert in 2013.
He apologized then for what he said and did again Friday, but couldn't answer whether the incident played a role in him being out of the NFL last season.
"I'm extremely apologetic about that," Cooper said. "I told everybody it was completely my fault. I'm so sorry about it. That's not the type of person I am, and the people that know me know that. … I'm going to make the best of this opportunity, and keep moving forward to become a better human, a better person and a better football player."
Asked about his down time over the past year, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound receiver said he spent his time "fishing and working out," joking that he goes to one of the two gyms in Ocala, where he bought a home.
Cooper, who will turn 30 in September before the season starts, said he likes the idea of playing with Jameis Winston, joking that he'll "let it slide" that Winston played at FSU and he with the Gators.
"He's a heck of a player, super talented and smart," Cooper said. "It'd be fun. It'd be an honor to play with Jameis. He's a heck of a quarterback and I think he'll be in Tampa a long time."
Cooper has a friend and advocate in Bucs receiver DeSean Jackson, an Eagles teammate from 2010-13 when they won two division titles together.
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"We've been through battles together in Philly. You become close, as friends, when your backs are up against the wall," he said. "It means a lot. He knows I love him."
Cooper is a tryout player, so the Bucs haven't made a commitment beyond the weekend. There were eight receivers at minicamp Friday, only four under contract toward the 90-man roster. He's hopeful a good showing can get him signed for the offseason, giving him a chance to be back in an NFL uniform this fall.
"I think I'll be okay, but you never know," he said. "We'll see."
Contact Greg Auman at firstname.lastname@example.org and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.