Cooks shines during Thursday's OTA practice

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan works with his unit at the Saints Training Facility during an OTA in June in Metairie. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan works with his unit at the Saints Training Facility during an OTA in June in Metairie.

Thursday’s organized team activities marked the first time New Orleans Saints first-round pick Brandin Cooks particiated at a practice that was open to the media with the team since rookie mini-camp was held in May.

Cooks was excused from prior OTAs because he was back at Oregon State University completing summer classes.

But during Thursday’s practice the rookie receiver showed all the versatility that enticed the Saints into trading up to take him 20th overall in this year’s draft.

Cooks worked with the punt-return team, caught passes as a wide receiver, and even got a few opportunities to run reverse/end-around plays, which displayed the speed that made him such an interesting prospect for the Saints.

“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,” Saints coach Sean 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.”

Cooks didn’t get as many reps with the first-team offense, because he is still trying to learn a new offense and catch up on everything he has missed since he was back at school.

But it is apparent to Cooks’ teammates that he will be able to make an immediate impact on the team.

“Today, I didn’t even see him when he got that hand-off,” outside linebacker Junior Galette said, describing a play at Thursday’s practice where Cooks got a hand-off on a reverse and sped up the sidelines. “I haven’t seen that speed in quite a while. His speed is definitely top-tier in the league.”

Other quick observations

- Along with Cooks, some of the other players seen catching punts on punt-return drills were running back Travaris Cadet and wide receiver Kenny Stills. With the departure of players like Lance Moore and Darren Sproles, the Saints starting punt returner job will be open for the taking amongst these three players and a few others. Cadet had one punt return for zero yards last season and Stills has yet to return a punt in his NFL career.

- During field-goal kicking drills, both Shayne Graham and Derek Dimke were given opportunities to attempt kicks from 33, 39 and 45 yards. Dimke nailed all three of his attempts and Graham made two of his three kicks, missing the 39-yarder wide right.

- Quarterback Ryan Griffin continued his recent trend of playing alongside the second-team offense whenever quarterback Drew Brees was substituted out. The former Tulane standout has shown flashes of strong play during his limited opportunities and Payton expressed that he wishes to have Griffin and incumbent backup quarterback Luke McCown compete for the second-string job during training camp.

- The Saints first-team offense and defense competed in a few goal-line plays at Thursday’s practice and the drill concluded with Brees stretching the ball out as if he were handing it to running back Mark Ingram, then pulling it back at the last minute, which fooled the entire defense. Brees jogged into the end zone and casually spiked the ball as he turned and ran off the field.