Saints are looking for ways to fill void of not having Darren Sproles this season _lowres

Associated Press photo by Chris Lee -- Saints receiver Brandin Cooks eludes a tackle attempt by Rams defensive back Lamarcus Joyner.

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — First-round pick Brandin Cooks is the most exciting player running routes at Saints training camp.

It’s a common role of high draft picks, regardless of their position, 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 in which he turned what normally might be a nominal gain into a showcase of talent.

Cornerback Keenan Lewis tried to catch Cooks on Monday, approaching from the other side of the field at The Greenbrier. That gave Cooks a chance to show off his 4.3 speed.

Lewis made up ground, but once Cooks spotted him the race was over.

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

“I was talking to Kennan, told him ‘Get up. Run back,’ ”Cooks said, smiling.

Fortt finally makes it

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 and 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 man the middle of the defense. Fortt, a fourth-round pick in the 2014 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 for the 2013 season.

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.

Hicks expecting everything

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

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.”

Quinn retires

Six days after signing with the Saints as a free agent, tight end Richard Quinn retired Monday, according to the NFL.

Quinn went on the Saints’ reserve-retired list, meaning he will not count toward the team’s roster or represent any cap charges, though the organization will retain the playing rights to the tight end.

The Denver Broncos selected Quinn in the second round of the 2009 draft out of North Carolina. He remained with the Broncos through 2010, catching one pass for 9 yards.

He subsequently spent time with Washington and Cincinnati.

The 6-foot-4, 260-pound Quinn spent training camp with Arizona last year and then returned to Washington for a bit. He was active for 30 games throughout his career and was considered to be a better blocker than receiver.

New Orleans acquired Quinn on Aug. 5 after rookie tight end Je’Ron Hamm was injured and a few bubble players were waived. He was in a position group that includes All-Pro Jimmy Graham, veteran Benjamin Watson, second-year man Josh Hill, Hamm and rookie Nic Jacobs.

Gary Estwick