NFC South: brandin cooks

ATLANTA -- It seemed impossible that New Orleans Saints rookie receiver Brandin Cooks could live up to the lofty hype that surrounded him heading into his NFL debut.

And he didn't. He exceeded it.

Cooks
The Saints' dynamic new weapon did a little bit of everything -- at least during the first half -- of New Orleans' 37-34 overtime loss at the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

Cooks finished with seven catches for 77 yards and a touchdown, plus one run for 18 yards and two forced penalties against the defense for holding or interference.

However, Cooks was the first to point out that it felt a little hollow.

"To be honest, I had an all right day. But at the end of the day you want the win," Cooks said. "I would rather have zero catches with a 'W' than what I did."

Cooks was especially down after he had only one catch for nine yards in the second half. And quarterback Drew Brees threw just slightly behind Cooks in the end zone for a costly interception in the third quarter.

“That’s the one that really bugs me,” Brees said after the game. “If I put that thing one more foot in front of Cooks, it’s a touchdown.”

However, Brees has to be feeling very good about the possibilities with his new weapon -- who is as diverse as he is dynamic.

The Saints found about a half-dozen different ways to put the ball in Cooks' hands -- continuing the trend we saw in training camp. He caught a deep ball in traffic for 32 yards on the second play of the game. He later had the end-around run, a screen pass and a slant, showing off his combination of blazing speed, impressive hands and toughness.

As advertised, the 5-foot-10, 189-pounder gives the Saints yet another unique matchup problem that coach Sean Payton and Brees can exploit.

“He looked sharp,” Payton said. “I thought he made some good plays in space, hung onto the football. And the thing with him is he’s prepared. And it's nothing we haven’t seen and that you (in the media) have seen in practice. He looked very comfortable.”

Because the Saints spread the ball around so much to so many different weapons, it’s hard to predict whether Cooks can put up similar numbers on a weekly basis.

But he is obviously a big play waiting to happen. And he is more than ready to burn defenses when they pay too much attention to tight end Jimmy Graham or receiver Marques Colston or the run game.

“Guys were doubling Jimmy, Colston. The run game was (working),” Cooks said. “In an offense like this, someone’s gonna be open.”

W2W4: Saints at Falcons

September, 6, 2014
Sep 6
1:00
PM ET
METAIRIE, La. – The New Orleans Saints will be looking to reverse one trend but keep another going as they open the season on the road against their biggest rival.

The Saints need to be better on the road, where they’ve gone 3-5 in each of the past two years. But they want to continue their dominance over the Atlanta Falcons, whom they’ve beaten 13 out of the past 16 times, including a sweep last year.

Sunday’s game is scheduled for a 1 p.m. ET kickoff in the Georgia Dome. Here’s what to watch for:

Dynamic receivers? Get used to it: The Saints’ secondary has become one their greatest strengths over the past two years, with breakout performances by cornerback Keenan Lewis and safety Kenny Vaccaro in 2013 and the arrival of free agent safety Jairus Byrd in 2014. But they will be tested – early and often.

The Falcons feature one of the most dynamic receiving duos in the NFL in Julio Jones and Roddy White (not to mention the depth they have with Harry Douglas and Devin Hester). But this will become an almost weekly ritual as the Saints are scheduled to face eight of the top 10 receivers on ESPN’s preseason fantasy football rankings (Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green, Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall, Jones, Jordy Nelson, Alshon Jeffery and Randall Cobb).

When asked about that, Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan playfully pretended to throw up. But then he said, “They’re all great in this league. … Every team has one. They all have great quarterbacks. You just have to be prepared.”

And many players said they relish the challenge.

“I look at all of it,” Vaccaro said, rattling off a list of names. “I’ve been looking ahead a little bit. You can’t hide in this league. It’s a challenge and it shows the type of player you are. You compete with those guys, you’ll get the recognition you want.”

Bringing the heat: The matchup that most clearly favors the Saints is their loaded defensive front (Cameron Jordan, Junior Galette and Akiem Hicks) against Atlanta's unproven offensive line. The Falcons' line was a question mark even before they lost veteran left tackle Sam Baker to injury this summer. Afterward, they moved rookie first-round draft pick Jake Matthews to left tackle and re-inserted Lamar Holmes into the starting lineup at right tackle.

[+] EnlargeCameron Jordan
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsThe Saints' Cameron Jordan is eager to see if Atlanta's offensive line has improved.
Earlier this offseason, the Saints’ Jordan took some shots at Atlanta’s offensive line, saying, "I don’t know if you could call that an O-line last year. Road blocks. Speed bumps.” Jordan was much more diplomatic, however, when discussing the matchup Friday.

“I’m sort of looking forward to this game, just because it’s the first game of the season and also because anytime you see some newer names at tackle, you get a little excited,” Jordan said. “I’ll let Junior talk about what he wants to do to tackles. I’m here to say our D-line has to penetrate their offensive line and put pressure on (quarterback Matt) Ryan and make him uncomfortable."

Saints' new weapons: I’m very excited to see what the Saints’ offense looks like now that they’ve added even more dynamic weapons to their group of receivers with the arrival of rookie Brandin Cooks and Joe Morgan’s return from injury. Combine them with a healthy Drew Brees, a healthy Jimmy Graham, a healthy Marques Colston, a healthy Mark Ingram and a running game that looks much improved – and this Saints offense could be as loaded as ever.

I’m not the only one fired up to see how it all fits together. Graham talked about it Friday, as did Cooks.

“I’m excited just to see how our offense works, period, in the game,” Cooks said. “To see how special this offense can be, like I’ve seen in years past.”

Saints Camp Report: Day 20

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
7:40
PM ET
METAIRIE, La. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New Orleans Saints training camp:
  • The Saints transitioned out of "camp mode" on Thursday with a glorified walk-through practice that was mostly dedicated to preparation for Saturday night's preseason game at the Indianapolis Colts. This is the one and only preseason game that will get that kind of treatment, since it's the one game where the starters play about a full half. The Saints had a scout team impersonating the Colt, and it was interesting to note that the one Colts offensive player they singled out was up-and-coming receiver T.Y. Hilton (with a player wearing a red No. 13 jersey). "I think when you look at this team, we were talking about this the other day, there are a lot of new faces, guys that are very impressive, that can run. Obviously we know the quarterback (Andrew Luck) has turned into the real good football player. He's got the arm to make all the throws. I think the offensive line has played well. When you put that together with the defense, you are seeing a young roster that has played well, and I'm sure they have high expectations."
  • Since the Saints' offensive and defensive units weren't really going full-speed against each other Thursday, there weren't a ton of highlight moments that stood out. But sure enough, cornerback Corey White managed to squeeze in another big play (almost a daily ritual in camp) with an interception against quarterback Ryan Griffin. Although White probably won't begin the season as a starter with Champ Bailey and Patrick Robinson now returning from injuries, he's certainly taken advantage of his increased practice opportunities. And he'll likely make his way onto the field in certain packages. "All of the reps have been good for me just to show the coaches what I can do on a constant, consistent basis," White said.
  • Receiver Brandin Cooks was back in practice on a limited basis Thursday after missing the three previous days with a stomach virus/fever. When asked if Cooks will play against the Colts, coach Sean Payton said, "We'll see. … We'll see where he's at tonight and tomorrow. (The focus is) really just keeping him hydrated and getting his body weight up a little bit." … Guard Ben Grubbs was also back in practice after missing the past two and a half days with an undisclosed injury. The only other change from Wednesday's practice participation was the absence of safety Marcus Ball, which Payton declined to elaborate on. … Also noteworthy: linebacker Victor Butler and cornerback Rod Sweeting were doing more conditioning work with trainers off to the side of practice than we've seen yet.
  • Quarterback Drew Brees was asked Thursday about safety Jairus Byrd's standout performance in Wednesday night's practice -- particularly Byrd's impressive and deceptive interception against Brees in 7-on-7 drills. "Oh man, it was a ridiculous play," Brees said. "I didn't throw it exactly where I wanted to; I was trying to throw it to Nick Toon in the back, kind of retracing on a route, and Jairus was underneath it. No. 1, I didn't feel like he would really reach it, but he did. To actually come down with it was a whole (different) story. Usually that ball just gets tipped and goes out of the back of the end zone, but it was an impressive play."
  • The Saints don't have a full practice scheduled for Friday. They'll have a brief walk-through, and they'll also take part in an annual fan luncheon before traveling to Indianapolis. Saturday's game at 8 p.m. ET will be nationally-televised by CBS.

Saints’ Camp Report Day 18

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
7:45
PM ET
METAIRIE, La. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New Orleans Saints training camp:
  • The Saints got some good news on the injury front Tuesday when safety Jairus Byrd was cleared to do full-contact work. But there were still a handful of key players missing. Cornerback Keenan Lewis was held out of practice, though he did some exercises off to the side with trainers. Guard Ben Grubbs was absent after leaving with an undisclosed injury during Monday’s practice. Receiver Brandin Cooks was absent for the second straight day with a stomach virus (coach Sean Payton said he still had a fever). Cornerback Patrick Robinson, linebackers Victor Butler and Khairi Fortt and fullback Erik Lorig were also among a group of players who remained sidelined with unspecified injuries. Defensive end Akiem Hicks and cornerback Champ Bailey participated in a walk-through but didn’t do any team drills.
  • Veteran defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick replaced Hicks with the starting defense – another sign of Deaderick’s versatility and possible value to the Saints. The 6-foot-4, 305-pounder spent most of the summer lining up as the Saints’ second-string nose tackle while John Jenkins recovered from a pectoral surgery, and that’s where Deaderick was lined up when he recovered a fumble in last Friday’s preseason game against the Tennessee Titans. Deaderick, 27, spent his first three seasons with the New England Patriots and one year with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He’s right on the roster bubble, but he’s making a strong case.
  • Speaking of that roster bubble, another undrafted rookie that belongs on your radar is outside linebacker Kasim Edebali, a German native who played at Boston College. The main reason I haven’t touted Edebali much when I do my weekly 53-man roster projections is because I feel like that position is so overcrowded that it will be tough to crack. But the 6-2, 253-pounder has flashed some impressive athleticism and pass-rush ability at times. Saints analyst Bobby Hebert was just touting Edebali on Monday. Then on Tuesday, Edebali got a ringing endorsement from fellow former undrafted linebacker Junior Galette. When asked if he’s been impressed by any undrafted guys, Galette said, “One guy I’d point out, Kasim Edebali. You know he’s not really a rookie, I feel like. He’s up there in age, 25 years old [as of Sunday]. He’s a lot more mature than I was as a rookie. And the guy gets off the ball and he can play.”
  • Some of the on-field highlights Tuesday: Rookie cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste went up high to break up a pass from Drew Brees to Marques Colston in the end zone, one of Jean-Baptiste’s best efforts to date. … Cornerback Corey White forced a fumble against running back Khiry Robinson in seven-on-seven drills, one of White’s many nice plays in camp. … Tight end Jimmy Graham continued to serve as a go-to target in Tuesday’s practice, continuing a stellar camp. And after Graham scored a TD on Tuesday, he celebrated with an emphatic (and legal) spike. … Brees kept the ball to himself, tucking it and running it in for a score to cap a red zone drill at the end of practice.
  • The Saints will take their practice show on the road Wednesday night for a rare practice across the lake at Mandeville High School. The session, from 7-9 p.m. CT, will be free and open to the public, weather permitting. Payton said the team will be in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts instead of a fully-padded session.

Saints Camp Report: Day 15

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
8:25
PM ET
A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New Orleans Saints training camp:
  • The defense dominated a set of live goal-line drills Wednesday -- easily one of the most physical and spirited sessions to date throughout all of training camp. The first-string offense scored only twice on six attempts inside the 3-yard line (or maybe only once; see below). And the second-string offense got shut out on all four of its attempts, including a fumbled snap between center Tim Lelito and quarterback Luke McCown. The two running backs who scored were Khiry Robinson and Travaris Cadet -- both times around the left side. It's hard to pinpoint too many individual standouts in that type of drill without the benefit of replay. But among those who came up big at least twice were defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley with the first-string defense, end Glenn Foster and cornerback Corey White with the second-string defense and left tackle Terron Armstead with the first-string offense.
  • The players themselves wish they had a replay challenge at their disposal since no one could agree whether Cadet scored. Players debated on the field, in postgame interviews and even on Twitter after WWLTV.com's Lyons Yellin posted a video of the play from an inconclusive angle. What was conclusive on that video is that Armstead laid a great block on linebacker Kyle Knox -- who then recovered to make an outstanding hit on Cadet just as he approached the goal line. For what it's worth, I was watching from a direct sideline angle and thought the ball crossed the plane.
  • Nobody needed replay to see rookie receiver Brandin Cooks put on another dazzling display later in team drills. Cooks reeled in a touchdown pass of more than 50 yards from McCown by leaping up and outdueling safety Pierre Warren for the ball. He later ran free behind the third-string defense to catch another deep ball from QB Logan Kilgore. As I've said many times, we really aren't overhyping Cooks. He simply keeps makes the biggest highlights on an almost-daily basis. I didn't think he'd be in a position to catch the deep ball against Warren, but sure enough, he rose to the challenge.
  • The secondary had a few highlights of its own in team drills. Safety Rafael Bush intercepted quarterback Ryan Griffin after linebacker Kevin Reddick popped the ball up (Reddick should've caught it himself). Cornerbacks Keenan Lewis and Stanley Jean-Baptiste each had nice pass break-ups in the end zone during a red-zone drill.
  • Kicker Derek Dimke had a rough day, missing two of his three field-goal attempts. Shayne Graham was a little better, going 3-of-4, including one from 50-plus. But Graham did doink one off the right upright. I still say Graham has the edge if he can show stability throughout the rest of the preseason. The Saints just need to have faith that he can be a solid 80-percent kicker. But Graham hasn't locked down the job yet, and he's competing with both Dimke and kickers who will get cut around the league.
  • The Saints are now done with training camp at The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia. They won't practice Thursday as they fly home to New Orleans before Friday's preseason game against the Tennessee Titans. Then they'll remain home for the rest of camp.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Drew Brees' strained oblique must have been one of those balance-in-the-universe things.

Although the New Orleans Saints quarterback is expected to be healed in plenty of time for the start of the regular season, the injury that has kept him sidelined for the past two weeks feels like one of those yin-and-yang type of deals. Like something had to go wrong to keep the Saints' training camp from going too smoothly.

Because aside from a handful of injury issues that have crept up this summer, the Saints' camp has been as idyllic as the cool mountain air in their new West Virginia training camp site.

Breakout young talents such as rookie receiver Brandin Cooks and second-year left tackle Terron Armstead have injected some new life into an offense that needed a boost in those two position groups. Meanwhile, the Saints' defense appears to be in better shape than ever during the Sean Payton-Brees era, with defensive coordinator Rob Ryan heading into his second season with even more talent at his disposal.

No, the image of Brees throwing passes to prized free-agent safety Jairus Byrd in street clothes before the start of the preseason opener wasn't exactly an awe-inspiring sight. But if they're both back to 100 percent by the start of the real opener, this team indeed has the feel of a bona fide Super Bowl contender.

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

1. Cooks has been everything that was advertised and then some. The first-round draft pick from Oregon State has repeatedly flashed his dynamic speed in practices, in the scrimmage and in the preseason opener, when he embarrassed two St. Louis Rams defensive backs with a wicked stop-and-go move. Cooks has also caught almost every pass thrown his way, including some trickier back-shoulder throws and some balls he had to go up and get behind safeties and corners. And he has remained humble and hardworking, demonstrating that the hype isn't going to his head. Although you never want to put too much on any rookie's plate, Cooks really looks like a guy who will help fill that big-play void that started to show up for the Saints last season.

[+] EnlargeCooks
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesIn the preseason opener, Saints rookie Brandin Cooks had five receptions for 55 yards and a TD.
2. The Saints' run game looks as if it could be a legitimate strength -- or at least a decent complement to the passing game. The blockers and runners alike have hit the ground running this summer after finishing strong last season. Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson thrived in the preseason opener -- and that was without Pro Bowl guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs in the lineup because of undisclosed injuries. Armstead is emerging as a tremendous young asset. And more than anything, you can tell there is a confidence among all the players and coaches after they figured out what worked (and what didn't) last season when they transitioned to more of a zone-blocking scheme under new line coach Bret Ingalls.

3. The simple law of averages says the Saints have to force more turnovers than in 2013, when they had only four takeaways over their last 11 games, including zero in the playoffs. But they're not just counting on a change in fortune. It's been a huge point of emphasis this offseason, starting with the Byrd signing. You constantly hear players and coaches cheering turnovers on the field or chattering about the opportunities they missed. One of the highlight moments in camp came early, when the entire secondary wildly celebrated after a great team effort by Champ Bailey and Rafael Bush to force, save and recover a fumble.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. Brees' injury isn't expected to linger into the start of the regular season. And, in his 14th NFL season, he of all people should be able to handle missing preseason games. But it's obviously not ideal for him to be thrown off his routine. And it's a sobering reminder of how fragile the Saints' title chances are if anything happens to their future Hall of Fame quarterback.

[+] EnlargeDrew Brees
AP Photo/Chris TilleyThe Saints' offense is in good hands -- as long as QB Drew Brees is healthy and ready to lead the charge.
2. Another future Hall of Famer, cornerback Bailey, has been dealing with an undisclosed injury that leaves his future -- and the Saints' No. 2 cornerback job -- in limbo. The good news is the Saints have some other decent options, including former starters Patrick Robinson and Corey White. And Robinson, especially, has looked good in his return from a 2013 knee injury. But in general, that No. 2 cornerback job remains as big of a question mark as it was to start the offseason.

3. Let's go with injuries one more time. It was unsettling to see both Evans and Grubbs out of the lineup for much of the past two weeks. Ideally, neither of their ailments will affect the regular season. But it's another reminder the Saints are getting older across the line -- and this coming on the heels of an inconsistent performance across the board in 2013, in part because of Evans' injuries. I still consider the Saints' line a strength. But they are counting on a healthy line since they don't have much proven depth to fall back on beyond their five starters.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Jimmy Graham remains the Saints' most potent playmaker, even though he missed all of the organized team activities and minicamp in a contract dispute. Graham had the fastest time of any player in the team's conditioning test at the start of camp. And safety Kenny Vaccaro said he thinks Graham looks faster and stronger on the field. Don't forget, Graham is now healthier after dealing with a painful foot injury for the second half of last season. Another monster season could be on the way.
  • The Saints have a lot of young defensive stars still on the rise who could be talked about in similar terms to Graham (end Cameron Jordan, cornerback Keenan Lewis, outside linebacker Junior Galette, Vaccaro and end Akiem Hicks among them). Lewis and Galette seem to be off to the hottest starts so far among that group. But I wouldn't be surprised to see any one of them in the Pro Bowl.
  • None of the Saints' other draft picks has stood out yet. Cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste, linebackers Khairi Fortt and Ronald Powell, and safety Vinnie Sunseri have all had their moments in practice and have shown some flashes of long-term potential. But they're also still in that "thinking too much to play at full speed" mode. If I had to pick a first-year player to make an early impact other than Cooks, I might go with Canadian Football League transplant Marcus Ball, a safety/special-teams asset.
  • The center battle between Jonathan Goodwin and second-year pro Tim Lelito is still too close to call. But both players have looked good, for the most part, so the winner should be worthy. This doesn't feel like a significant area of concern.
  • The Saints were hoping the kicker battle wouldn't be a tough call. But veteran Shayne Graham hasn't locked down the job yet in his battle with younger hopeful Derek Dimke, thanks in part to a missed 33-yard extra point in the preseason opener.
  • Second-year quarterback Ryan Griffin has looked great so far, giving him the early edge over veteran Luke McCown in the battle to become Brees' backup. Ideally, neither one of them will see the field this season. But either should be capable of keeping the Saints' loaded offense competitive if needed in a pinch.

Saints Camp Report: Day 13

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
5:35
PM ET
A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New Orleans Saints training camp:
  • Are people tired of hearing about Brandin Cooks' daily exploits yet? I honestly don't think that we in the media are over-hyping the Saints' rookie receiver. He simply makes one or two of the biggest plays on the practice field every day. As quarterback Luke McCown said Monday, "He's got next level speed ... and quickness. We find him in positions where he's just separating from guys regularly." That was absolutely the case again Monday during an otherwise-sloppy practice in the rain. As Cooks said, he's from Corvallis, Oregon, so he's used to this weather. Cooks had two breakaway plays for big gains on short passes -- once cruising about 75 yards for a touchdown on a screen pass. Cornerback Keenan Lewis valiantly gave chase the whole way but didn't really have a chance. "He's a special player," McCown said. "I think that's easily recognized for any amount of time you spend watching him. He's a smart, heady player that you only have to teach a certain route or step or technique once, and he's got it down, and he begins to operate like a veteran. So the sky's the limit for that kid."
  • Two other rookies who haven't made an overwhelming amount of highlights during camp had arguably their biggest moments to date Monday -- safety Vinnie Sunseri and linebacker Khairi Fortt. Sunseri made a great diving interception during full-team drills (after Fortt probably would have had a sack on the same play if they were live tackling). Sunseri also broke up a deep pass intended for tight end Josh Hill. Fortt also had another would-be sack.
  • While we're on the subject of guys operating in the shadows, I'll give a little love to defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley and linebacker Parys Haralson. Bunkley had a great run stuff early in practice to add to his sack from the other night in the preseason game. Although Bunkley hasn't made quite the impact the Saints were hoping for when they signed him in 2012, he was probably playing his best football yet in New Orleans during the second half of last season. Haralson, meanwhile, has stormed inside for would-be sacks on each of the past two days of practice in full-team drills.
  • Monday's practice made me second-guess my decision to add undrafted rookie tight end Nic Jacobs to my projected 53-man roster in place of receiver Joe Morgan. Jacobs had a rough practice, dropping one pass and having a ball stripped away from him by safety Pierre Warren after a catch. But then again, it's the 6-foot-5, 269-pounder's prowess as a blocker and special teams asset that made me put him on the 53-man roster in the first place. … Meanwhile, Morgan had two great catches in practice Monday -- especially impressive on a rainy day. As I said Monday morning, I'm not ruling Morgan out of the battle against Nick Toon and Robert Meachem for the fourth or fifth receiver jobs by any stretch. I just don't think the Saints will keep all three of those veteran receivers, so I decided to omit Morgan.
  • The Saints could get a chance at a do-over in the rain Tuesday. There's more rain in the forecast for their scheduled 8:50 a.m. ET practice. They also have a walk-through scheduled for 4:30 p.m.
Rookie receiver Brandin Cooks is one of those guys who lets his play on the field do the talking for him. Luckily for the New Orleans Saints, Cooks has the volume cranked all the way up.

The Saints’ first-round draft pick delivered a dynamic performance in his preseason debut Friday night, catching five passes for 55 yards in a 26-24 victory over the St. Louis Rams. The highlight was a stop-and-go move on a 25-yard touchdown catch that might still have a couple of Rams defensive backs spinning in place inside Edwards Jones Dome.

[+] EnlargeBrandin Cooks
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonBrandin Cooks flashed his speed and cutting ability in the third quarter on Friday night.
But Cooks passed the credit for that play to quarterback Ryan Griffin.

“The quarterback threw a great ball and put it on the right shoulder for me to be able to make a quick move and get out of there,” Cooks said.

When asked about that ability he has shown to "stop on a dime," Cooks said: "It’s one of those things you just don’t think about. I guess you can say stopping on a dime. I don’t want to say it’s hard, it’s just a technique or more a sense where the defenders are coming from. So I was blessed to have that ability.”

And Cooks was also humble while describing the performance overall, saying he wants to just “continue to build and continue to learn.”

“As a rookie, I’m gonna make a few mistakes. But you’ve got to own up to those mistakes and go back and watch film so when the next game comes it doesn’t happen again,” he said.

Cooks didn’t make any obvious errors, though there was one point where he and Griffin failed to connect on a third-down pass after Cooks turned around wide-open on a comeback route. Clearly they weren’t on the same page in that moment.

And Cooks started slowly with just two catches for 8 yards in the first half, though they were both tough catches in traffic.

His breakout came during a three-play span in the third quarter. First, Cooks found a wide-open cushion in the middle of a zone defense for a 17-yard gain. Two plays later, he caught a short pass around the 18-yard line and made defensive backs E.J.Gaines and Lamarcus Joyner whiff badly after a sharp inside cut toward pay dirt.

Cooks did at least allow that it was a special night overall because it was his NFL debut.

“It’s one of those things that I just came out here and wanted to build and be able to learn and be able to see how the NFL game feels,” Cooks said. “Just finally be able to get out here in live action and transition from practice to the real game.”

As the Rams’ defensive backs learned the hard way, Cooks is able to make transitions quickly.

W2W4: New Orleans Saints

August, 8, 2014
Aug 8
12:00
PM ET
The New Orleans Saints (0-0) and St. Louis Rams (0-0) open the preseason tonight at the Edward Jones Dome.

1. Griffin audition: This game will be lacking star power at quarterback, with New Orleans' Drew Brees and St. Louis' Sam Bradford both expected to watch from the sideline. (Brees hasn’t been officially ruled out but will almost certainly sit as he rests an oblique strain). But that’s OK, because at this stage of the preseason, the Saints' quarterback most worth watching is second-year pro Ryan Griffin. So far, Griffin has looked great in training camp, showing poise and polish. But if the 6-foot-5, 206-pounder wants to beat out veteran Luke McCown for the Saints’ backup job, these preseason games will be the auditions that matter most. ... The Saints have obviously been high on Griffin’s potential since they signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Tulane last year. In fact, they blocked Griffin from being signed by this very Rams team off their practice squad last season when Bradford was first injured.

2. Bringing the heat: This game won't be lacking star power when it comes to pass-rushers. Guys like the Saints' Junior Galette, Cameron Jordan and Akiem Hicks and St. Louis' Robert Quinn, Chris Long and highly touted rookie tackle Aaron Donald should all be on display (for parts of the first quarter, at least). And you just know they are all champing at the bit to finally hit a quarterback at full speed. So even if there wasn’t any history between the Saints and Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the pass-rushers would be the most fascinating players to watch tonight. But when you add in the Williams intrigue (he has been known to blitz relentlessly in preseason openers before), it’s must-see TV. It is probably a wise time for the Saints to sit Brees, especially since Saints guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs might also be held out with injuries.

3. Cooks' growing legend: Somehow, Saints rookie receiver Brandin Cooks has managed to keep topping himself throughout training camp, making dynamic plays on an almost-daily basis. So it will be fascinating to see if his legend continues to grow in his preseason debut. We already knew about Cooks’ blazing speed -- which he has demonstrated often during training camp, especially when he burns defensive backs with sharp cuts in the open field. But the 5-foot-10, 189-pounder has also shown an ability to go up and win jump balls and reel in back-shoulder catches, among other highlights. ... St. Louis has a similar dynamic playmaker in second-year receiver Tavon Austin. So it will be interesting to see if the Saints' defense can corral him.

Saints Camp Report: Day 10

August, 5, 2014
Aug 5
6:55
PM ET
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New Orleans Saints training camp:
  • Time for your daily Brandin Cooks highlight reel: The Saints' dynamic rookie receiver had two nifty catches in Tuesday's practice. He burned cornerback Trevin Wade with a sharp cut for a big gain on a screen pass. And he caught a touchdown pass in the back of the end zone from Luke McCown. ... Normally, rookies have to adjust to the “speed of the NFL game.” But Cooks was asked whether he feels like he's reversing that trend and making defenders adjust to his speed. “Well, I have to use my strengths to my advantage, and that's my speed. As far as the speed of the game, it's not that much different to me,” Cooks said. “But how smart people are, that's the different part from college to the NFL. That's where you have to work on your game.”
  • It's been Corey White's turn to stand out in the Saints' cornerback carousel this week. The third-year pro has now had interceptions on back-to-back days after snagging a Ryan Griffin pass that was intended for Brandon Coleman on Tuesday. White also had an impressive pass break-up against QB Luke McCown on a pass intended for tight end Jimmy Graham. At different times this summer, both Champ Bailey and Patrick Robinson have stood out. But the physical White remains very much in that mix for either the No. 2 cornerback job or a prominent role in nickel/dime packages -- even though he went through some highs and lows as a replacement starter last year. “We really like him,” Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. “We love him as an inside corner, but he has done some good things outside as well. We're excited about him. He started for us down the stretch and did a really good job in those games. We know he's an ascending player and he's going to be really good.”
  • Third-year guard Marcel Jones got an extended audition with the first-string offense Tuesday after starting right guard Jahri Evans left practice for an undisclosed reason. Jones did most of the work in team drills -- though backup Jason Weaver also took a turn. I didn't notice anything extraordinarily good or bad from Jones in Tuesday's practice. But he has impressed me at times during camp, and he has tackle/guard versatility, which is why I bumped him up onto my projected 53-man roster earlier this week. If Jones gets an extended look with the starters, it could certainly help make or break his chances.
  • Second-year defensive end Glenn Foster is another guy who has stood out to me a handful of times in team and individual drills throughout camp. He missed Monday's practice with an undisclosed injury. But he was back in pads Tuesday and didn't look like he missed a beat.
  • The Saints are scheduled to have another full practice day on Wednesday (8:50 a.m. ET practice followed by 4:30 p.m. walk-through). Then they'll be off Thursday as they travel to St. Louis for Friday night's preseason opener against the Rams.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- The New Orleans Saints are off Sunday, so I thought it would be a good chance to empty my notebook from the week. Check out Part 2 later this afternoon:
  • Marques Colston (6-foot-4, 225 pounds) has always been the Saints’ biggest receiver. But he’s now looking up to undrafted rookie Brandon Coleman (6-6, 225). “This is the first time I’ve had a receiver where I can feel like I am looking in the mirror,” Colston said of the former Rutgers standout, who has turned things around in camp after struggling during OTAs.
  • Meanwhile, Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief also compared rookie receiver Brandin Cooks to Colston (from a personality standpoint, not a physical one, since Cooks is 5-10, 189). “He carries himself like a much older player," Strief said. "You talk about a guy you’d like to come in and have an immediate impact, a lot of that is, ‘Is it too big?' Is the scene too big? Is it too big to get a pass from Drew Brees? Is it too fast? He acts like an eight-year vet, he really does. He’s very calm, cool and collected. He’s very Marques Colston-esque, personality-wise. He’s very quiet, just comes to work, all the things you want to see. I don’t know where we keep finding these receivers that don’t talk.”
  • Strief also did a great job breaking down Cooks’ speed: “He’s electric. I think the thing you see with Brandin is that it seems very natural. It doesn’t seem like when he’s running fast that he’s running fast. You see some guys really get going and it looks like (it). Like Mark Ingram, when he gets to top speed it’s like a freight train. You know what I mean? It looks like he’s really driving. Brandin just seems to kind of smoothly go faster than everybody. It’s clearly real natural to him, and he’s got a great burst.”
  • Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton said the funny thing about new veteran cornerback Champ Bailey is that everywhere he goes, he has four young defensive backs following him around like a shadow. “As young players, they grew up watching him, and now he’s in the same room. It’s unbelievable,” Lofton said. “I’d be doing the same thing if that was Ray Lewis or Mike Singletary.”
  • Speaking of Lofton, both Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette made a point to single him out this week as a vital part of New Orleans’ defense, even though the younger guys are getting more attention right now. Galette called him the “calming influence” that helps keep everyone focused.
  • I also liked Galette’s description of powerful defensive end Akiem Hicks, saying he’s so athletic for a 6-5, 324-pounder that he can “tomahawk dunk” on the basketball court. And when asked if it’s true that teammates marvel at Hicks’ prowess in the weight room, Galette said, “Everything you’ve heard and more. ... I leave the weight room when he comes in.”
  • Saints coach Sean Payton offered lofty praise to perennial practice-squad receiver Andy Tanner, who has continued to stand out in practice for the fifth straight summer. “He is someone that you don’t ever take for granted," Payton said. "He is a guy you don’t bet against. He is a grinder. He is tough. He knows what to do. Shoot, he has a lot of traits that endear himself to the team. He has the respect of his teammates, and they have seen him work, and they have seen him be successful. Defensively, guys will talk about who is tough to cover. ... I think he’d be one of those guys they would bring up.”
  • I’ve been eyeing undrafted rookie tight end Nic Jacobs as a wild-card possibility to crack the 53-man roster because of his unique size (6-5, 269). Jacobs first caught my eye when he showed surprising athleticism while catching a pass. But he’s been even more impressive as a blocker, according to Strief: “He’s as physical a blocker as any tight end we’ve had here. You see it on film, he just buries his face in guys’ chests.”
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- The star of the New Orleans Saints' scrimmage on Saturday?

The same guy who has been the star of their entire camp -- rookie receiver Brandin Cooks.

Somehow, the dynamic playmaker keeps managing to top himself with each passing day. Among his other highlights on Saturday, Cooks torched cornerback Rod Sweeting with a sharp cut for a touchdown of about 25-30 yards, leaped up to reel in a deep ball behind cornerback Patrick Robinson at the 1-yard line and broke a big gain on a kickoff return.

[+] EnlargeBrandin Cooks
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertFirst-round pick Brandin Cooks has made a great impression on his teammates early in training camp.
Unofficially, Cooks caught a total of six passes (some against the first-string defense and some against the second-stringers).

Unfortunately Cooks wasn’t available for interviews following the scrimmage. But he left enough of an impression to allow the scarred defenders to speak for him:

  • “Obviously today we were going against our offense, so I was quite upset. But it’s an amazing thing to watch. He’s everything we expected him to be so far.” -- outside linebacker Junior Galette.
  • “I’m glad he’s my teammate. I never want to see him catch a ball, but when he does catch a ball it’s pretty special. You can’t say enough about that speed. I always say it seems like he gets shot out of rockets when he gets the ball in his hands.” -- linebacker Curtis Lofton.
  • “He’s zero to sixty. Real fast. ... When he gets the ball in his hands, he’s dangerous. ... A bunch of people were saying, 'I hope I don’t have to cover the guy.' The people who were covering him were saying, 'Bring me a little help.' He’s a great young player, he will do well.” -- linebacker David Hawthorne.

Obviously it must be stressed that expectations shouldn’t soar too high for Cooks based on a couple weeks’ worth of training camp highlights -- especially in a deep Saints offense that likes to spread the ball around.

But it really has been remarkable how consistent and versatile Cooks has been. He has thrived by flashing his speed and quickness, as well as his ball-catching ability and instincts.

The other day, quarterback Drew Brees raved about the way Cooks can do a little bit of everything.

“He’s explosive," Saints coach Sean Payton said Saturday, "and a guy that if you can get the ball to him in space, he has a chance to give you some run after the catch. And he did that. You’ve just got to keep working with him on a lot of the nuances and specifics with the passing game. It was good to see him make a few plays.”

Making plays is nothing new for the 5-foot-10, 189-pound Cooks, who put up monster numbers at Oregon State last season (128 catches, 1,730 yards, 16 touchdowns) before posting some monster measurables at the NFL scouting combine (4.33 seconds in the 40-yard dash).

And Payton said he’s not worried about Cooks getting a big head over his early success because of his makeup -- another outstanding trait the Saints raved about when they traded up to draft Cooks with the 20th overall pick.

“Most of these young players, these rookies, understand how much they have to get up to speed with and where they’re behind. Every one of them has a lot of work to do, including Brandin,” Payton said. “If you’re around him long enough, I think you get a sense from him that he understands that. I think it’s a process, and we’re really just completing the first week of it.”

Saints Camp Report: Day 5

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
7:00
PM ET
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New Orleans Saints training camp:
  • Another day, another "wow" moment for rookie Saints receiver Brandin Cooks. At some point, I'm going to have to borrow a Sean Payton term and start "de-recruiting" Cooks instead of continuing to pump him up. But that's hard to do when he keeps making eye-popping plays. This time Cooks took a screen pass from Drew Brees and shot past a couple hapless defenders for a touchdown. Cooks also showed off some receiving skills on a nifty back-shoulder catch from Brees, among other highlights. "That was awesome. ... I think that just gives you a taste of what we have in him," Brees said of the screen play. "(Some people) are straight-line fast but not real quick or they have long strides or short-area quickness but not long speed. This guy has it all. He's got short-area quickness, great transition ability and phenomenal straight-line speed."
  • Fellow receiver Nick Toon has also continued to impress throughout training camp. The third-year pro sprung free for one deep ball and went up high to pluck another pass out of the air. It was just another typical practice for Toon this summer as he has probably racked up more catches in team drills than any receiver in camp. ... Of course Toon has looked good in training camps past, and his job this year will be to prove that it can translate onto the field. But Brees, for one, sees Toon playing more "natural" with more "confidence."
  • I've said over the past couple days that 1-on-1 pass-rush drills are my favorite individual segment in camp. But I specifically like watching the daily battles between guard Jahri Evans and defensive end Akiem Hicks. They're both so strong, it's like the irresistible force vs. the immovable object. Credit Evans for holding his own so far in a drill that's designed to favor the defense, but they both look good.
  • Safety Jairus Byrd wasn't the only one back from injury Tuesday. Receiver Robert Meachem (back) and offensive tackle Tavon Rooks (back) also returned from injuries. … Among other highlights from Wednesday's session: an interception by cornerback Terrence Frederick on an overthrown deep ball by Luke McCown; a huge run block by right tackle Thomas Welch that upended safety Vinnie Sunseri; and a great pass break-up deep down the field by Corey White against QB Ryan Griffin at the end of practice.
  • No practice Wednesday. Players will have their first off-day of camp after five straight days of practice. They'll be back on the field Thursday morning.

Saints offseason wrap-up

May, 22, 2014
May 22
10:00
AM ET
» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

 
With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the New Orleans Saints' offseason moves.

[+] EnlargeBrandin Cooks
Gregory Payan/AP PhotoThe New Orleans Saints are counting on first-round draft pick Brandin Cooks to help keep the passing game rolling in 2014.
Best move: It's a tie for the Saints' big, bold moves in both free agency (signing safety Jairus Byrd) and the draft (trading up for receiver Brandin Cooks). The Saints had a Super Bowl-caliber team already. But they went all in to add a dynamic playmaker on each side of the ball. Byrd should help in the one area the defense was lacking last year -- forcing turnovers. And Cooks gives the offense another young, fast weapon after New Orleans parted ways with veterans Darren Sproles and Lance Moore this offseason.

Riskiest move: The Saints decided to let starting center Brian de la Puente leave in free agency without putting up a fight -- even though they don't have a proven backup in place. They're high on the potential of second-year pro Tim Lelito, but he's raw, and his only NFL experience came at guard last year. There's also a strong chance they'll re-sign former starter Jonathan Goodwin. But it's still a new question mark on an offensive line where they'll also be counting on second-year left tackle Terron Armstead.

Most surprising move: Trading Sproles to the Philadelphia Eagles was more unexpected than the Saints' other decisions to part ways with several aging veterans this offseason. It made some sense because the Saints are loaded with talent at running back and Sproles had started to slow down a bit in recent years. But Sproles was still a huge impact weapon as both a runner and a receiver -- the kind of player defenses had to devise a game plan around. Now he's playing for another high-octane offense in the NFC.

Super secondary: Over the past two years, New Orleans has undergone a radical makeover in the secondary, which now looks like the NFL's most formidable unit east of Seattle. Last year, free-agent cornerback Keenan Lewis and rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro were two of the biggest reasons for the Saints' remarkable turnaround under new coordinator Rob Ryan. Then they added Byrd and future Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey in free agency this offseason, followed by the addition of a big Richard Sherman clone in the second round of the draft in Nebraska cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste.
METAIRIE, La. -- The local media caught up with New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees for the first time this offseason on Wednesday night during teammate Ben Grubbs’ charity softball game.

Brees
Click here for Brees’ thoughts on going through the offseason without tight end Jimmy Graham. And click here for his explanation of why he’s taken such a passionate stance against the proposed workers compensation bill in Louisiana.

Here are a few other topics Brees discussed:

On how fired up he is for OTAs next week: “Really excited. Hey, we’ve been working out in the weight room long enough. Now it’s time to get to some actual football. Looking forward to just kind of diving back into the playbook and getting on the field and seeing some of these young guys and how they’ve developed in the offseason. We’ve been able to spend some time together, throwing around and just kind of talking through concepts and scenarios and situations. And this is what helps prepare you for training camp and then into the season. Looking forward to when [rookie receiver] Brandin Cooks can be here – I know he’s got some school to finish up first. But yeah, just excited for another start.”

On adding Cooks, especially after losing weapons like Darren Sproles and Lance Moore this offseason: “Yeah, it’s awesome. I mean, we traded up to get this guy. So that tells me a lot about how we feel about this guy. Not only his talent and his skill set, but also just the type of guy he is. From all accounts, he’s just a phenomenal person, a great teammate, extremely hard, tough work ethic, and just a character guy. Fits in perfect in our locker room and loves football. We love those guys.”

On beating defensive end Tyrunn Walker on Wednesday to reclaim the home run derby title after losing out to backup quarterback Luke McCown last year: “It’s good. It’s good that it came home. It stays within the quarterback group, which is good. I think we have four or five in a row at this point. I know this, Luke McCown has his trophy from last year literally right above his locker. I stared at it every day, and it just ate at me. And I said as soon as we get this opportunity again to settle the score, I’m going to reclaim it. So now I’m gonna set mine next to his. And I think this year’s trophy is a little bigger, so it’s gonna stand a little bit taller than his.”

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider

NFC SOUTH SCOREBOARD