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One up-and-coming Ram is among leaders in Pro Bowl voting

One up-and-coming Ram is among leaders in Pro Bowl voting
Pharoh Cooper (10) celebrates a 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars. (Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated Press)

Garnering Pro Bowl votes is not high on Pharoh Cooper's list of priorities.

Returning kickoffs to set up the Rams' offense, catching and returning punts, helping other special teams units and developing as an impact receiver are the things that command the second-year pro's attention.

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Cooper, however, could not help noticing that he was among leaders in fan voting for return specialists when the NFL released initial balloting for its annual postseason all-star exhibition.

Players and coaches will vote Dec. 15. Fans, players and coaches each make up one-third of the vote.

"I just want to be the top returner in the league," Cooper said.

Cooper, 22, is on his way to possibly establishing himself as such. Cooper leads the NFL with 713 kickoff-return yards. He is averaging a league-best 29.7 yards per return among players with at least 11 returns.

Cooper returned a kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown in Week 6 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. In last week's victory over the New Orleans Saints, he returned the opening kickoff 40 yards to set up the Rams' first touchdown drive.

"When you see the ball in Pharoh's hands — [you see] a very confident player, can make things happen, has got an understanding and a good feel for the return game," coach Sean McVay said.

Cooper has handled kickoff returns the entire season. He added punt-return duties in Week 6 after Tavon Austin muffed several kicks.

Cooper is averaging 12.1 yards per punt return, which ranks third for players with at least 15 returns.

"He's caught the ball consistently well, especially just looking at the punt returns as you're getting more and more comfortable with that phase of our special teams unit," McVay said.

Cooper also has seven receptions for 56 yards, and he could see his role on offense continue to expand in the wake of receiver Robert Woods' absence because of a shoulder injury.

Cooper said he was "surprised but excited" about Pro Bowl possibilities but put it in the back of his mind.

"It's a good goal to have but I'm not thinking, 'I need to get to the Pro Bowl,' " he said. "I'm thinking, 'Let's get more good returns and do what I've been doing,' and that stuff will take care of itself."

Welcome back?

Running back Malcolm Brown has been sidelined several weeks because of a knee sprain. Lance Dunbar was not active last week after aggravating a knee injury that forced him to sit out offseason workouts, training camp and the first half of the season.

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Both were full participants in practice Friday but are listed as questionable for Sunday, which could impact starter Todd Gurley's workload.

"It's looking like they'll both be available," McVay said, "and then how we go about that will be determined right before kickoff."

Brown was injured during a victory over the New York Giants in Week 9, when he rushed for 57 yards in 15 carries. He has run for 138 yards and a touchdown in 37 carries. He also has five receptions for 46 yards and returned a blocked punt for a touchdown.

Dunbar played for the first time in Week 10 against the Houston Texans and rushed for 31 yards in five carries.

"We have a lot of confidence in both of those guys going in and being able to execute the same way that when Todd's in the game," offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur said, adding, "It allows us to keep [Gurley] a little more fresh so that when it gets down in the crunch time, he's got a full head of steam behind him."

If Brown or Dunbar is not available, rookie Justin Davis could be active for the second week in a row. Davis played but did not carry the ball against the Saints. He had one carry for one yard in the season opener against the Indianapolis Colts.

Etc.

Woods (shoulder) and linebacker Connor Barwin (forearm) will not play Sunday. … The Rams will have a walk-through in Thousand Oaks on Saturday before departing for Arizona.

Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein

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