New Orleans Saints rookie Brandin Cooks has been getting some extra sprints in during practice — often with the ball in his hands as he speeds away from would-be tacklers.
The receiver's growing collection of training camp highlights has the Saints increasingly optimistic that their latest first-round pick will be an immediate, additional threat in a receiving game led primarily by Marques Colston and tight end Jimmy Graham.
"He's good, man. He does a lot of the little things well, and that's rare for a rookie coming right in," Saints safety Jairus Byrd said Tuesday after practice. "He's mature beyond his years."
The 20-year-old Cooks, who caught a pass in the end zone during red zone work on Tuesday, looked relaxed and confident as he discussed his transition to the NFL from Oregon State, where he caught 128 passes for 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns last season.
"I feel good. It's football," Cooks said. "I just come out here and have fun and do what I do best and be a playmaker and learn from older guys."
Cooks' speed has been as good as advertised since he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.33 seconds at the NFL scouting combine last winter.
"He can run. It is our job to get him in space and let him do that," coach Sean Payton said. "There will be a handful of things we have to do to get him touches, whether it is through the passing game, whether it is through handoffs, bubble screens — he has some versatility."
Cooks is also joining an offense that will make it difficult to slow him down. Graham and Colston combined for 161 receptions and 2,158 yards last season.
Asked about the advantages of lining up with Graham, Cooks said, "Come on, the guy's probably going to get triple coverage every game. So that lets guys like me and other receivers out there ... make plays out in space, one-on-one."
In the early days of camp, No. 1 quarterback Drew Brees connected with Cooks for several long gains on an array of short and deep passes during 11-on-11 drills.
"Watching his explosive ability to just navigate those blocks and hit a seam — if he hits the seam, he's gone," Brees said. "He's got short-area quickness, great transition ability, and phenomenal straight-line speed."
Cooks worked out with Brees in California this summer, and the rapport they developed has been obvious since camp began. But since Brees strained a muscle in his abdomen last Friday, Cooks has continued to be a favorite target of reserve quarterbacks.
"It's awesome. A five-yard out, he's able to take to the house," quarterback Ryan Griffin said. "He's a weapon that we're going to be able to use this year."
During an intra-squad scrimmage over the weekend, Cooks had six catches for more than 100 yards, making a falling 40-yard catch on a deep throw and later turning a short catch along the sideline into a touchdown of about 30 yards.
"When you're guarding a guy like that, you've got to make sure that your shoes are very tight because he will probably leave you out of your shoes," cornerback Keenan Lewis said. "That's a guy who has been working extremely hard, and I'm excited to see what he'll do."
Cooks' early camp success hardly seems to have hurt his humility. Among the first things he does after practice is ask more experienced teammates to review with him whatever he did wrong.
Right tackle Zach Strief compares Cooks' comportment to that of an eight-year veteran, adding that he is much like Colston in the way he defies the stereotype of the outspoken, diva receiver.
"He's very quiet — just comes to work, all the things you want to see," Strief said. "I don't know where we keep finding these receivers that don't talk, but he's just another one that just goes out and plays well for us."
Notes: Brees, who hasn't practiced since Friday morning, did some light throwing on the side. ... WR Nick Toon appeared to hurt his shoulder in the morning, but returned in the afternoon. ... RG Jahri Evans also left morning practice and didn't return.
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