Saints first-round pick Brandin Cooks catches on quickly _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON-- New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks practices with New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) at the Saints Training Facility during an OTA in Metairie, La. Thursday, June 19, 2014.

Brandin Cooks has had little trouble soaking up the plays in the New Orleans Saints’ playbook.

Hauling in passes from Drew Brees seems easy too.

The hard part for the rookie wide receiver is grasping the fact that he truly is starting to live his NFL dream.

The reported four-year, $8.3 million deal he signed in May should have helped him realize he had made it.

Or maybe the two Mercedes-Benzes he purchased. (One for his mom. One for himself.)

Or perhaps the two dozen or so reporters gathered around his locker on Thursday.

But …

“To be honest, it still hasn’t hit me yet,” said the first round draft pick out of Oregon State. “I am just going day-by-day playing football. That’s what I’m going to keep doing. One of these days it will hit me, probably when I am by myself or when I get that first big hit. That’s what I need to wake me up a little bit.”.

All eyes were on Cooks as the Saints wrapped up the final day of voluntary offseason practices. It was just the third day of practice with the full squad for the guy who earned the Biletnikoff Award for being the nation’s best receiver.

After going though rookie minicamp, he missed the six prior voluntary practices to finish up college courses at Oregon State because of an NFL rule that prevents rookies from schools that are on the quarter system to join the team until the college class graduates.

“I don’t think it’s fair, but it’s one of those things you have to abide by the system,” Cooks said.

So the 20-year old Stockton, Calif. native spent the past few weeks juggling school books and the playbook.

He’d study the playbook and watch practice film sent to him from the team on his iPad, studying one or two hours each night.

“I don’t think I am behind at all,” said Cooks. “...Coming from Oregon State, we run that same system, just the terms are different. I just have to get used to the new terminology. The challenging part is getting used to the pace. They have been grinding for three weeks and I come in the last couple days.”

Veteran receivers like Marques Colston and Robert Meachem have helped.

Saints receivers coach Henry Ellard says Cooks is learning just like he runs: Fast.

“He has the speed and quickness of Az-Zahir Hakim, who I worked with when I was in St. Louis.,” Ellard said. “I don’t know if Az is quite as fast as he is, but it’s close. He is a smart kid and he picked up everything real quick. I think its going to be an easy transition for him. The biggest thing is he takes it all in. He knows the plays and that’s always the most important part going out there and knowing where to line up. When you have a guy like that who can make plays, you find a way to get the ball in his hands and let him do what he does best.”

And if Thursday’s practice is any indication, there will be plenty of places for Cooks to do just that.

He took snaps in both the slot and out wide and returned punts. One of his favorite plays was when he lined up in the slot, took the handoff from Drew Brees and then showed off the speed that showed why the Saints traded up seven spots to get him with the No. 20 overall pick.

“I’m used to that,” he said about the play. “It’s backyard for me. We did that a lot at Oregon State. When we put that in, I was smiling form ear to ear.”

It’s the role many expected for the rookie who will help fill the void of the versatile Darren Sproles, who compiled 5,546 all-purpose yards in his three seasons in New Orleans before being traded to the Philadelphia Eagles.

“Everybody has their comparisons,” Cooks said. “Is it fair? I don’t know. (Sproles) did a lot for this offense and a lot for this game. I’m a rookie and its time for me to prove myself.

“As far as the speed, it’s fair to compare me to him, but as far as some of the things he did, we’ll have to wait on that.”

Brees sees the similarities between Cooks and Sproles, and not just the small frames. (Cooks is listed at 5-foot-10, 189 pounds and Sproles is 5-6, 190). Brees wasn’t made available to the media on Thursday, but talked about the comparison on WWL radio on Wednesday.

“Running in short situations, he’s very quick like a Darren Sproles, but he’s also fast in long distances,” Brees said.

“When you think about the downfield routes and concepts that we incorporate into our offense you know it’s something he’s going to be very, very good at … He has all of the makings of a great player. I don’t want to put too high expectations on the guy, but what’s also great is that he’s got guys like Marques Colston and Robert Meacham who have been in this system for a long time, so he can really sit there and learn the nuances of the offenses from guys like that.”

But Cooks still knows there’s plenty more to learn before the Saints report to training camp at The Greenbier resort in West Virginia on July 24.

He will first attend the NFL rookie symposium, an orientation for drafted rookies, then spend time in San Diego working out with Brees. He’ll also continue his school work. He’s determined to have his degree in human development in family studies finished up in the winter.

“I will be the first one in my family to get a degree,” he said. “I promised my mom I would make sure I get that degree as soon as I can.”

But Cooks knows Andrea Cooks, the mother of four sons, won’t be the only one proud.

On Cooks’ right arm is a tattoo with the words “R.I.P. DAD,” in memory of Worth Cook, Sr., who died of a heart attack when Brandin was 6-years old. .

“I think he is up there smiling right now and very proud,” said Cooks. “It’s been a long process.

“He’s probably happy that I’m able to take care of my mom now so she can stop working. … It’s a dream come true.”