Receiver Brandin Cooks has generated plenty of buzz in his first NFL training camp with the Saints. But the excitement comes with a caveat; wideouts rarely make a big impact as rookies.
“I just think the coverages they face in college are different than the coverages you face in the National Football League,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly recently explained to reporters regarding the struggles that rookie wideouts commonly experience. “There’s a lot more man, a lot more press man. And at times, when you have three and four wide receivers you have to match up to, maybe the teams at the college level don’t have three and four defensive backs that can match up to all those guys.
“So I think you see more zone at the college level than you do here and so really being able to combat press man I think is the biggest challenge for a young receiver coming into the league because it’s different than what they face when they were at the college level.”
With Cooks, that will be the challenge. And the Saints possibly will come up with ways to help him avoid press man, for example by putting him in motion and/or placing him behind the line of scrimmage, so that he’ll have more of a chance to juke or otherwise evade a defensive back that hopes to disrupt the early portion of his pass route.
Whatever the Saints do, they have enjoyed first-year impacts from a couple of receivers during coach Sean Payton’s time with the team, starting in 2006 with Marques Colston and continuing last year with Kenny Stills.
“I think it varies and as much homework as we do during the draft and prior to the draft, the first week the player’s with us you get a feel for how quickly he picks things up,” Payton told PFT Live at training camp on July 31. “Last year, Kenny Stills picked things up very fast in his initial rookie camp and minicamp was outstanding and that transitioned over to training camp. Going back to 2006, the first spring Marques was with us he struggled not mentally but he had a sore back, he was heavy, he was on the ground a lot and none of us would have seen him starting that year. . . . Fortunately for Marques, his body weight dropped during the summer when he came back to training camp he was like we saw a different player.”
Quarterback Drew Brees explained how the Saints’ offense helps younger players thrive.
“There’s a lot of things that we do just within the framework of our system and our concepts that gives them some flexibility just to get open,” Brees told PFT Live. “There’s the way that its drawn on paper on the blackboard, and then there’s the way that it actually happens in the game. Certain little details and subtle adjustments that just allow them great flexibility, and it allows them to get open and get the ball. I think they know that, they love that, and so they know that their opportunities will come throughout the course of the game, even if the defense has the perfect coverage drawn up, we can get open and there’s places to throw the ball.”
The approach could allow Cooks to make his mark right away, serving as a much-needed depth threat in an offense that would get even better if he can stretch the field and open up the underneath routes.