Winner of $100,000 as the fastest player wearing adidas cleats at the NFL combine, it didn’t take long for Saints rookie receiver Brandin Cooks to make his presence felt on the practice field.
In the blink of an eye, according to one trained observer.
“I’m out here watching him, and it’s like, ‘Ooh, wow!’ ” Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said Saturday between rookie minicamp workouts at the team’s training facility in Metairie. “This guy opens your eyes. You can feel his speed. It’s something that Al Davis used to say: ‘Can you feel his speed?’ Well, you can certainly feel (Cooks’) speed.’’
Saints coach Sean Payton plans to put Cooks’ speed and versatility to good use against defending NFC South champion Carolina, Atlanta, Tampa Bay and 13 other foes beginning in September. It’s that combination of versatility and speed — Cooks clocked 4.33 seconds in the 40-yard dash in Indianapolis — that prompted General Manager Mickey Loomis and Payton to work a trade with Arizona that enabled the Saints to move up from No. 27 to No. 20 in the first round.
The indoctrination for Cooks and five other draft picks began in earnest Friday and concludes with Sunday’s fifth and last workout of the team’s three-day rookie minicamp.
Cooks, 20, on Sunday departs for Corvallis, Oregon, where he will complete his junior year at Oregon State. He’s scheduled to return for the team’s final week of OTAs and offseason program in mid-June.
“These five practices are extremely important for me,’’ said Cooks, winner of the 2013 Biletnikoff Award as college football’s top receiver. “I want to show that I can get comfortable with the playbook and that I can pick up on things easily. It’s very similar to my offense back at school. Our formations, even some of the play-calling and the terms are exactly the same. Some of it’s a little different. But as far as where I line up at, it’s pretty much the same.’’
For now, Cooks will line up at one position, but his role likely will grow in training camp and include punt return duties and running the football on occasion.
“We can move him around ... in the slot ... outside,’’ Payton said. “He’s got a very good skill set with regard to his acceleration and his speed. He catches the ball well. I like his toughness. We’ll line him up at (the ‘X’ receiver spot now), but we can move him around.’’
Cooks’ ability to play multiple positions and his game-changing speed excites Saints coaches and fans alike and gave national draft analysts reason to gush.
“Cooks is a great fit for the Saints,’’ said Russ Lande, a former NFL scout and founder of GM Jr. Scouting. “He will be significantly better than Lance Moore was for the Saints and will add a big-play weapon to their offense that has been lacking outside of Jimmy Graham and the flashes that Kenny Stills showed as a rookie.’’
Curtis Johnson, the Tulane coach and former Saints wide receivers coach, said Cooks has the potential to upgrade what is already one of the NFL’s most prolific offensive attacks.
“I love the pick,’’ he said. “He can absolutely fly. You can’t touch him in a telephone booth. He catches the ball well. He has great running skills after the catch. He can do what Reggie Bush did. Darren Sproles was a productive player, but you knew where he was and you knew his limitations. I just love this kid.’’
Though 5-foot-10 and 189 pounds, Cooks said press coverage in college did not present problems for him, nor did he anticipate encountering problems from NFL defenders who typically are bigger, faster and stronger.
“The Saints do a great job of creating ways to get guys off press coverage by putting them in motion and doing other things to free them up,’’ Johnson said. “This kid is going to be fantastic for them — a young, fast guy who can deliver a spark. That’s the one thing that they haven’t had the last couple of years ... the downfield, home run hitters that you need to win a Super Bowl.’’
After seeing Cooks strut his stuff in person the past few days, Ryan said opposing defensive coordinators will face a unique set of problems.
“Anytime a player is handpicked by Sean Payton to play offense as a receiver, you better believe he’s going to be something (special),’’ Ryan said. “I’m looking forward to seeing him because I know how Sean is going to create roles to get this guy involved. It’ll be awesome.’’