Rookie Saints receiver Brandin Cooks is flattered by the comparisons he drew all preseason to past New Orleans playmakers such as Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles, who produced all-purpose yardage by buckets.
But when the Saints kick off their season at Atlanta on Sunday, Cooks will welcome the arrival of his chance to begin becoming what he called “my own type of player.”
“Those guys are special ..., but I’d like to think I add my own different taste to the game,” he said about being likened to past dynamic Saints players in his last meeting with reporters before the Week 1 opener. “I kind of want to mold into my own name here.”
Cooks, of course, won’t be used identically to the way coach Sean Payton utilized Bush from 2006-10 and Sproles from 2011-13. Though Bush and Sproles frequently lined up as receivers and caught screens, they were running backs.
Cooks won’t be running routes, taking handoffs or collecting pitches out the backfield in the manner Bush and Sproles did. But he’ll be targeted for screens and returning punts on special teams, which could afford him the opportunity to generate all-purpose yards in the way Sproles and Bush did in their best years.
That was 2006 for Bush, when the Saints made their first NFC Championship game as he had 1,307 yards from scrimmage and 216 yards returning punts to lead the team in the regular season. Now with Detroit, Bush left New Orleans with 4,984 all-purpose yards, 29 rushing-receiving touchdowns and four punt return scores in five regular seasons — not to mention a ring from Super Bowl XLIV.
Sproles’ prime was in 2011, when he set an NFL single-season record with 2,696 all-purpose yards to help the Saints reach the divisional playoffs. Returning both kickoffs and punts, he departed New Orleans for Philadelphia via a trade in March with 5,546 all-purpose yards, 21 rushing-receiving touchdowns and a punt return score in his three regular seasons with the Saints.
For his part, Cooks dazzled in training camp, scoring off bubble screens tossed to him around midfield more than once. He had his moments as the Saints went 3-1 in four exhibitions, ending up second on his team in catches (nine) and third in receiving yards (101) with a touchdown.
However, observers have yet to see the best of the former Oregon State star running back punts, returning two for five yards in the exhibitions. Cooks can’t wait to show it, describing his excitement level over his looming NFL debut as “off the charts.”
“Everybody on the field is obviously going to be great because they’re starting in the league,” Cooks said about facing Atlanta. “That’s what I’m looking forward to.”
Kenny Stills might play Sunday. Or he may not.
The Saints wide receiver was limited in practice Friday with a quad injury and was listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. Stills was limited Wednesday and sat out Thursday’s practice.
Asked about his situation after the session, he said the decision is not up to him — but if it were, he “would be out there.”
The Saints for Sunday ruled out FB Erik Lorig (leg) and S Marcus Ball (hamstring). The team will need to downgrade five other guys 90 minutes before kickoff.