The New Orleans Saints officially brought their offseason program to an end this week, just over a month away from the start of training camp. While it was business as usual on the practice fields at the team's facility, there was one player in particular who caught the eye of his teammates and coaches, alike.
Rookie wideout Brandin Cooks, who the Saints traded up to the 20th pick to select in last month's draft, turned heads this week by showcasing his speed, agility, versatility and natural playmaking skills. Those traits led New Orleans to zero in on the former Oregon State standout, who led the college ranks in 2013 with 1,730 receiving yards to go along with 16 touchdowns. The 5-10 189 speedster, who does not turn 21 until late September, absorbed the hefty amount of data splattered onto his plate by Saints coaches, in an attempt to get their prized rookie up to speed with the rest of his teammates.
Cooks was unable to participate in the majority of the Saints' offseason workouts due to league and NCAA rules that prevent rookies from taking part in team activities until their respective schools have completed their semesters and commencement ceremonies. Oregon State operates on a quarterly basis, meaning the final semester runs well into June, as opposed to the more traditional bi-semester institutions, which generally wrap up their courses and graduation by mid-May. The Saints traded up to select Brandin Cooks 20th overall.
Cooks was allowed to take part in rookie minicamp, where he initially flashed his promising skill set over the course of three days. Having kept in touch with coaches via computer while completing his coursework in Corvallis, Cooks arrived in New Orleans last weekend ready to make his mark on the team's final slate of organized team activities.
The native Californian did not disappoint in the southern heat and humidity, wowing teammates with his speed and electric maneuvering from multiple positions. Cooks lined up out wide, in the slot, fielded punts, and turned heads when he burst off the edge on a designed end-around.
Cooks seems like a sure bet to absorb some of the workload vacated by the team's decision to trade the elusive Darren Sproles to the Philadelphia Eagles in April. Both players possess similar skills as playmakers who can exploit the edge of a defense, and can contribute in both the passing and run game, as well as on special teams. Cooks, however, is trying to keep things in perspective, taking his rookie campaign one day at a time.
“Everybody has their comparisons,” Cooks told the New Orleans Advocate after practice Thursday. “Is it fair? I don’t know. (Sproles) did a lot for this offense and a lot for this game. I’m a rookie and its time for me to prove myself."
Quarterback Drew Brees, who played with Sproles in both New Orleans and San Diego, noted the similarities between the two.
“Running in short situations, he’s very quick like a Darren Sproles, but he’s also fast in long distances,” Brees said. "He has all of the makings of a great player. I don’t want to put too high expectations on the guy, but what’s also great is that he’s got guys like Marques Colston and Robert Meachem who have been in this system for a long time, so he can really sit there and learn the nuances of the offenses from guys like that.”
Brees and his Saints teammates weren't the only ones who came away impressed by Cooks this week. Coach Sean Payton also liked what he saw from his new toy.
“If we were running a reverse or a special play, he’s someone, certainly, with his speed, that would be one of the guys we’d look to do that with,” Payton said. “Whenever you add speed to the field, it stretches the defense, both in the passing game and the running game. We just have to find that balance and fit it into what we’re doing.”
The Saints will look to both Cooks and Travaris Cadet in an attempt to vill the voids left by Sproles and Lance Moore, who was released in February before landing with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Saints have made it a point to use their playmakers to the fullest, as evidenced by the amount of designed plays drawn up for the likes of Reggie Bush, Sproles, and Devery Henderson in recent seasons. Cooks' skills should also see him feature in the Saints' dynamic screen game, one of the most effective facets of the team's potent offense.
Linebacker Junior Galette saw first hand what his new teammate is capable of bringing to the squad, saying "I haven’t seen that speed in quite a while. His speed is definitely top-tier in the league."
Top-tier speed and top-tier talent. Two reasons the New Orleans Saints made their move on draft day. Brandin Cooks was the target then, and will surely be a target of several big play opportunities within the Saints' offense in 2014.