Ohio State defensive end Jonathon Cooper acknowledged this week that his health had improved.
After missing the first four games because of a high ankle sprain, Cooper returned for wins over Nebraska and Michigan State.
“I feel a lot better now,” Cooper said. “Obviously, I wasn't 100 percent. The injury is still lingering, it's still there, but I feel a lot better and I feel I'm finally getting close to getting to 100 percent.”
Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our BuckeyeXtra newsletter
The Buckeyes’ off-week afforded him additional rest. Nearly two full weeks will have passed between their last game against Michigan State on Oct. 5 and their game at Northwestern on Friday night.
Cooper said he prioritized his health during the off-week practices.
“I wanted to get back to feeling like myself out there on the field and not letting my ankle limit me as much,” he said. “I wanted to get back to feeling good and feeling like I could do everything I wanted to do out there without it hurting.”
Though Cooper returned in recent weeks and started at the defensive end spot opposite star pass rusher Chase Young, he was effectively on a pitch count.
According to an unofficial tally from Pro Football Focus, Cooper lined up for 22 snaps at Nebraska, then 24 against Michigan State. In both games, it was less than half of the total snaps for the defense.
If healthier, that might change. The Buckeyes normally rotate defensive linemen, but Cooper often played a majority of snaps when he started 13 games last season. His impact has been minimal this season with only one tackle in his two games, along with two quarterback hurries.
Last season, Cooper had 25 tackles, including 6.5 tackles for loss, plus 2.5 sacks. The expectation is that Cooper’s role will grow as he gets healthier, possibly as soon as Friday.
In five games, the Wildcats have allowed 12 sacks, an average of 2.4 per game that ranks toward the bottom of the Big Ten.