WHITE SULPHER SPRINGS, W.Va. — Going in blind, it would be difficult not to notice him. Something about the way he moves about the fields, even on this day, with the grass soaked from a heavy downpour, catches your eye and forces you to pay attention.
Brandin Cooks isn’t big in stature. The rookie wide receiver is listed at 5-foot-10 and 189 pounds, and he looks even smaller when lined up across from one of the New Orleans Saints bigger defensive backs. Then he takes off, and you forget about his size and begin to wonder about his potential and what he might be capable of in this offense when and if everything clicks for him.
It isn’t just spectators who are curious about Cooks’ future. Coach Sean Payton said he wonders the same things. Like everyone else who has caught a glimpse of the Oregon State product, Payton is excited to find out what Cooks will doing for the offense in a few months.
Payton tries to provide a tepid answer when a reporter inquires about the newest weapon in his arsenal, but his excitement slips through before he catches himself.
“He’s explosive,” Payton said. “It is early, and he’s made some plays.”
Those plays have served as some of the early highlights of training camp. Cooks has already proven adept at catching deep passes from quarterback Drew Brees, which should add another element to an offense that is prone to cause cluster headaches for defenses. And Cooks has proven to be an efficient route runner.
On Friday, the first day of practices, Cooks put those skills together to make the play of the day. After beating the cornerback off the line of scrimmage, Cooks took off up the seam, then curled off over the middle in front of safety Ty Zimmerman. Brees delivered a deep pass, which caused Cooks to make a leaping effort to reel the ball in.
When asked about the play, Cooks played the part of the humble rookie.
“He also threw a great ball,” Cooks said. “If it touches your hands, you have to go get it.”
If it weren’t already clear why the Saints made Cooks the 20th overall pick in May’s draft, in that moment it became obvious. So obvious, in fact, that some of the Saints’ cornerbacks hate lining up against Cooks.
“I try to stay away from that guy,” Keenan Lewis said. “No, I’ve been going against him a lot, and (I) also help him as well. He’s a young guy, new to the league. I’m just trying to help him learn things that cornerbacks will try to do to him. He’s been trying to pick my brain as well, and it seems to work.”
Cooks hasn’t been afraid to pursue knowledge from his veteran teammates. In an effort to get up to speed in time for camp, he spent 10 days working with Brees in San Diego before camp. That experience allowed Cooks to gain some familiarity with his new quarterback and is a big reason why he appears to have seamlessly integrated into the system.
“When I came out here I was little up to par (after working with Brees),” Cooks said. “I’m now gaining day by day.”
How much Cooks gains over the next few weeks will be observed with keen interest. Where he is now, however, is extremely impressive because he was not able to take part in offseason workouts due to his college operating on a quarter system.
The Saints spent time going through practice film and the playbook to make sure Cooks was up to speed on everything that was being installed into the offense.
But maybe no one should be surprised by what Cooks has accomplished over the past three days. Payton said earlier this week that he prefers to populate his roster with bigger players and that it takes a special kind of talent for him to break the mold.
The Saints think Cooks can be that kind of player.
In answering the inquiry about Cooks, Payton filibustered — after revealing his initial excitement for his new weapon — about installations and the process the team has been going through. But he circled back around at the end and started rattling off the various ways he plans to use him.
“We need to get him touches,” Payton said. “Whether it is through the passing game, through handoffs, bubble screens. He has some versatility. He’s picking things up.”
The good news for the Saints defense is that once Cooks picks everything up and Payton figures out all the ways he can use him, the regular season will be near, and Cooks will then become everyone else’s problem.