Brandin Cooks emerges as one of the Saints players to watch on offense

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. - Push over Jimmy Graham.

As expected, first-round pick Brandin Cooks is the newest, most exciting player running routes at Saints training camp.

Watch out Marques Colston.

It's a common role of high draft picks, regardless of their position. Cooks was selected 20th overall in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Um, excuse us, Robert Meachem.

Yet, backup quarterback Luke McCown said Cooks is earning his passing game opportunities, the same as the rest of the Saints receivers.

The difference?

He gets more passes his way because, well, he gets open.

A lot.

"He's got next-level speed," McCown said. "His foot quickness and speed are at a different level. There's some quys that are fast, and some that are quick. He's both. He finds himself in situations where he's separating from guys, or we find him separating regularly, and the name of the game is throwing to the open guy, right?"

On Monday, Cooks, again, had the catch of the day, transforming a short pass on the left side of the field into a sprint to the end zone on the right side. It was a similar play to his 25-yard touchdown during Friday night's preseason opener at St. Louis; he turned what normally might be a nominal gain into a showcase of talent.

Cornerback Keenan Lewis tried to catch Cooks, approaching from the other side of the field at The Greenbrier.

That gave Cooks a chance to show off his 4.3 speed in the 40.

Lewis made up ground, but once Cooks spotted him... Race over.

Afterwards, Lewis rested on the sideline, presumably tired from the sprint.

"I was talking to Kennan, told him 'Get up. Run back,' " Cooks said, smiling.

At St. Louis, Cooks finished his debut game in the league with five catches for 55 yards.

-- Please excuse Saints rookie linebacker Khairi Fortt for in-game jitters during last Friday's preseason opener at St. Lous.

After all, Fortt waited 14 years to get to this stage.

"It was a little nerve-wrecking," Fortt said of his NFL debut. "But I got out there, got that first play over with and overall after we went through the film... I did pretty well."

Not bad for a guy who's learning a new position, Rob Ryan's defensive system, complete with numerous angles and assignments.

The more versatile he is - from standup defensive lineman to a down lineman in nickel packages - the better chance he has to reach the field. Linebackers Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne mad the middle of the Saints defense. Fortt, a fourth-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, is competing for playing time with reserves Kevin Reddick, Ramon Humber and others.

From 2010-11, Fortt served as the Will linebacker in Penn State's 4-3 defense. He served in the same role after transferring to Cal (2013).

And he started his pro career with the Saints at Will before moving two weeks ago to Sam linebacker, which adds on pass-rushing duties.

"I had my hand down on the ground a couple of times; that's very new to me," Fortt said of the two-point stance.

-- Defensive end Akiem Hicks wants the Saints defense to be equally good against the run and the pass in 2014.

For Hicks said you never know which is coming your way on gameday.

This offseason, much of the defensive attention has centered around improving the secondary, along with improving a lackluster interception total of 12 last season (tied for 24th in the NFL).

Hicks, though, isn't forgetting about run defense.

"We want to be a hard-hitting aggressive defense," said Hicks, who last season had 56 tackles and 4 1/2 sacks. "You have to play what that team gives you. If they're going to run, you have to play the run. If they're going to sit back and try to toss it around, you've got to play that."