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Notes: Amari Cooper calls retiring Nick Saban ‘father figure,’ ‘amazing guy’

BEREA — Amari Cooper was surprised and saddened when he heard Alabama coach Nick Saban had retired Wednesday. Above all, Cooper was appreciative.

“I would give him all his credit,” the Pro Bowl receiver told The Chronicle-Telegram on Thursday. “I came into Alabama as a boy, I left a man. I learned so many lessons from Coach Saban, whether they were hard lessons or whether they were just small critiques or whether he was just trying to edify me on something. But however the lesson came, I received it and I’m grateful for it.

“He’s truly an amazing coach, truly an amazing guy. Everything that he has done that led him to that point, his degree in psychology and everything, I admire him so much. He’s really like a father figure.”

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Cooper played for Saban for three seasons (2012-14), was an All-American, finished No. 3 in the Heisman Trophy voting and was the No. 4 pick of the 2015 draft.

Saban, 72, won six national championships at Alabama after one at LSU. The Crimson Tide lost in the semifinals of the playoffs this year.

“Knew it had to come one day. I didn’t think it would come this early,” Cooper said of the retirement. “But I’m speaking from my perspective, obviously it’s not early for him. Been coaching since what, the ’80s? It’s insane.”

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The reason Cooper was sad was a player decommitted after the retirement news.

“It kind of made it seem like the run was coming to a halt,” he said. “But I’m sure that Alabama will find a great replacement and hopefully they’re able to hit the ground running and continue the dynasty, but the world will always remember the Saban era for sure.”

Cooper is sympathetic to whomever Alabama hires next.

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“I read ‘The 48 Laws of Power.’ It says never step into a great man’s shoes,” he said. “So I truly feel sorry for the next guy who takes that job. But there’s always a flip side to that phrase. Some guys have enough (guts) to step into a great man’s shoes and continue on the legacy.”

NOT YET

Safety Grant Delpit just didn’t have enough time.

He wasn’t activated from injured reserve and was ruled out for the wild card game Saturday against the Texans in Houston. He had groin surgery Dec. 12.

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Delpit returned to practice Wednesday and was limited again Thursday.

“Part of (the rehab) process is getting out there on the practice field and getting through individuals and getting through some team periods,” coach Kevin Stefanski said. “But he’s trending in the right direction. He’s progressing really well.”

Delpit was voted a Pro Bowl alternate for the first time. The hope is he could return next week if the Browns advance.

“If you’re not driven to come back, what are we here for?” he said. “It’s the NFL playoffs and I’ve yet to play in a playoff game my whole career here, so that’s all the inspiration I need.”

INJURY REPORT

Cooper (heel) returned to practice as expected, was a full participant and will play Saturday.

“Looked like Amari,” Stefanski said.

Cooper didn’t play in the last two regular-season games and hadn’t practiced after getting injured Dec. 24 in the 36-22 win over the Texans. He was hurt on his second catch but stayed in to finish with 11 catches for a franchise-record 265 yards and two touchdowns.

** Defensive end Myles Garrett was also a full participant. He tweaked a hamstring last week and didn’t play in the finale as most of the starters rested.

“Feel good. Feel ready,” he said. “That’s what last week was about.”

** Only two players didn’t practice and they were ruled out: kicker Dustin Hopkins (hamstring) and rookie receiver Cedric Tillman (concussion).

Riley Patterson will kick, and David Bell will move into the No. 3 receiver role for Tillman.

** Safety Juan Thornhill (calf), cornerback/special teamer Mike Ford Jr. (calf) and running back/kickoff returner Pierre Strong Jr. (back) were listed as questionable.

D’Anthony Bell, Ronnie Hickman and Duron Harmon are next in line at safety with Delpit out and Thornhill iffy. Bell, Hickman and Harmon have played a lot lately.

** For the Texans, defensive ends Will Anderson Jr. (ankle) and Jonathan Greenard (ankle) and receiver Noah Brown (back) returned to practice, were limited and listed as questionable. Greenard has 12.5 sacks and hasn’t played since leaving the matchup with the Browns in the first quarter. Anderson has seven sacks.

Defensive end Jerry Hughes (ankle) was ruled out. Receiver Robert Woods (hip), defensive tackles Sheldon Rankins (shoulder) and Maliek Collins (hip) and fullback Andrew Beck (calf) were limited and listed as questionable.

MOVING ON UP

David Bell feels ready for a bigger role in Tillman’s absence.

“I really don’t feel any different,” he said. “I always prepare like I am the No. 1. So I make sure I know any position that is to be played by any receiver on the field.”

Bell has 14 catches for 167 yards and three touchdowns, including two Sunday in the finale vs. the Bengals.

“My confidence has always been high, so it’s just staying the same,” he said.

The coaches have “a ton of trust” in him.

“He does what he’s supposed to do every time,” Stefanski said.

HE’LL HELP

Defensive end Ogbo Okoronkwo’s playing through a torn pectoral muscle. He returned in the finale and was a full participant Thursday in practice.

“He’s been a big part of our third-down success and we’ve missed him,” coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “It was good to see him back out there. He brings a lot of energy to the practice field and confident he can make some plays.”

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.

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