Underhill: Cooks answers Saints questions so far

By Nick Underhill

nunderhill@theadvocate.com

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks (10) during there NFL football training camp in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014. (AP Photo/Chris Tilley)
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks (10) during there NFL football training camp in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014. (AP Photo/Chris Tilley)

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — The question surrounding Brandin Cooks is no longer if he is good. That has been answered. The question now is how good he can be as a rookie.

Training camp is only a week old, and performance in an intrasquad scrimmage might not be the best barometer for future success, but the Saints rookie wide receiver performed so well that it left his teammates wondering how good Cooks can be.

“Obviously today we were going against our offense, so I was quite upset,” defensive lineman Juinor Galette said. “But it’s an amazing thing to watch. He’s everything we expected him to be so far.”

Few witnesses would argue with Galette’s assessment. In what has been the running theme of the first week of training camp, Cooks stole the show Saturday with another electric performance.

Working with the first-team offense, Cooks made several catches, and put the first exclamation point on his performance by beating cornerback Patrick Robinson on a post-corner route to pull in a 40-yard bomb from quarterback Ryan Griffin at the 2-yard line.

Then he added another gem later in the practice when he caught a pass on from Griffin on the right sideline, made a quick cut inside that sent cornerback Rod Sweeting diving for air on the sideline, and then took off for a touchdown.

The performance left his teammates gasping for air afterward, and the members of the defense once again reiterated their glee about not facing Cooks on Sundays.

“I’m glad he’s my teammate. I never want to see him catch the ball, but when he does it’s pretty special,” linebacker Curtis Lofton said. “That speed — you can’t say enough about that speed. I always say it’s like he’s shot out of a rocket as soon as he gets the ball in his hands.”

It’s too early to make bold proclamations about what Cooks could accomplish this year. Many of rookies have flashed in camp over the years only to get stuck behind the shutter once it matters. But watching Cooks on a daily basis, it’s impossible not to let your imagination wander.

The standard for rookie seasons, at least within the past 35 years, was set by Anquan Boldin, who caught 101 passes for 1,377 yards for the Arizona Cardinals in 2003. Those numbers might be out of reach in a loaded offense, but is it crazy to think Cooks could push toward 1,300 all-purpose yards if he returns kicks and punts?

It’s entirely possible that suggestion will look foolish in a month, but right now, watching Cooks put it all together in camp, anything seems possible. Over the past week, the most exciting moments in camp have come when Cooks touches the ball. It’s not always because of what he does, but the anticipation of what he might do.

What makes Cooks so exciting isn’t that he’s always going to be among the most physically gifted athletes on whatever field he steps on. He’s also proven to have an adept mind for the game.

He’s quickly picked up the playbook after missing organized team activities and minicamp because of his college schedule, and has proven to have good instincts for the game. He runs solid routes, and has proven proficient at finding soft spots when the defense is in zone.

Traits such as those will quickly make him a favorite of Drew Brees, if it hasn’t already. If Cooks can keep it up when it matters, it seems like a good recipe for solid numbers and lofty expectations being met. It makes 1,300 seem like an achievable number.

This might seem a bit much for a rookie player who has a little more than a week of practices under his belt. But this isn’t the result of infatuation with a young, new player. The expectations and excitement exist because Cooks has been that good.

Until informed otherwise, it seems safe to believe the hype.