ATLANTA — Cooper Kupp has stayed under the radar this week. The injured Los Angeles Rams receiver has kept a prudent distance from the spotlight, choosing not to wear team gear and to stand back from the throng so he’s not approached by reporters.
He’s recovering from a season-ending knee injury and on the outside looking in at Super Bowl LIII even though teammates have been unwavering in their support and he’s moving forward in his recovery.
“The Super Bowl is one of those things where until Sunday it’s everything that’s in the news,” Kupp said Thursday night. “It’s constant stories, headlines. I know a lot of that is looking for someone to slip up and make a headline.
“Not being a player that is in the game, or will be stepping on the field on Sunday, I felt like anything that I would be doing at those media events would be more about me than it would be about the team.
“The only thing that would come out of this would be about me, or a distraction if I were to slip up. That’s the last thing I’d ever want to do.”
A third-round pick in 2017, Kupp played in eight games this season, scored six touchdowns, and was a vital piece in the offensive puzzle — a safety valve for quarterback Jared Goff, a stout blocker and a down-the-field threat.
He suffered a strained left knee when he was dragged down from behind with a horse-collar tackle at Denver on Oct. 14 and wound up missing the next two games.
Returning to the field against New Orleans, he turned a short reception into a 41-yard touchdown. Still, the Rams wound up losing. But the next week he suffered a torn ACL in his left knee on a non-contact injury against Seattle. That ended his season.
The former Eastern Washington star missed the last eight games, including two in the playoffs.
He conceded this Super Bowl is as bittersweet as he can imagine.
“Just as a competitor you want to be part of something like this, obviously,” he said. “Going back to the first time, your first dreams of playing in the NFL, you don’t just dream of playing in the NFL. You dream of playing in the Super Bowl.
“This wasn’t exactly how I imagined my first one playing out. So in that regard it is tough. … But at the same time, I’ve loved being able to contribute when I can. Being able to be around these guys, being able to sit in on meetings, and continue to feel like I can be a part of this thing even though my role isn’t the same as it was before, just helps so much to ease what is a pretty tough situation.”
Kupp will be on the sideline at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, encouraging his teammates, studying plays on an electronic tablet and helping coaches when he can.
“Just being in the meeting rooms with us, he’s rehabbing and that’s going really well, but he’s still having to point out things that he sees and to be able to talk with us,” receiver Brandin Cooks said. “And you appreciate that from a guy like that. You definitely listen to him.”
Kupp had 62 catches for 869 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie, and was making an even more significant influence in his second year. In eight games this season, he had 40 catches for 566 yards.
“Just a great understanding of the game, this offense, just giving his insight when he was playing just on plays and concepts,” fellow Rams receiver Robert Woods said. “Great route runner, great teammate. You see him always hauling down the field to get the extra block.”
Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who performed Kupp’s knee surgery, said the receiver didn’t have as much damage as New England quarterback Tom Brady had a decade ago.
“Cooper’s was pretty straight forward,” said ElAttrache, who likewise reconstructed Brady’s knee. “But any time you go through an ACL tear like that … Everyone thinks 100 percent of these guys come back and it’s really, quite frankly, not the case.”
Kupp said he hasn’t had any setbacks and is hungrier than ever.
“In one part of me, it’s the most excited I’ve ever been for a group of guys that has meant so much to me,” he said. “And another part is frustrated that I won’t be part of it as well.”