Brees sits out, Cooks shines
Drew Brees stood on the sideline throughout the Saints’ first scrimmage of training camp on Saturday, resting a strained abdominal muscle on his left side and likely watching with envy as his backups cashed in on the big-play potential of rookie receiver Brandin Cooks.
“He’s explosive and he’s 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,” coach Sean Payton said of Cooks, New Orleans’ first-round draft pick.
“You’ve just got to keep working with him on a lot of the nuances and specifics of the passing game, but it was good to see him make a few plays.”
Cooks racked up more than 100 yards receiving on six catches.
His highlights included a twisting, falling catch along the sideline of Ryan Griffin’s deep pass. Cooks beat veteran cornerback Patrick Robinson on the play, which gained about 40 yards to the 1-yard line.
Later, Griffin found Cooks along the sideline, and the receiver stopped suddenly to elude defensive back Rod Sweeting before sprinting nearly 30 yards down the sideline to the end zone. He also had long returns of both a punt and kickoff.
The Saints did not make Cooks available after the scrimmage, but teammates unequivocally praised the rookie’s performance.
“He’s electric,” Saints career receiving leader Marques Colston said. “He can run all the routes and he’s a big-play guy. ... He’s a guy that comes to work every day with the right mindset and I think that’s why he’s able to be as productive as he’s been — and I don’t really see a change in that coming.”
Saints defenders agreed.
“Obviously, today we were going against our offense, so I was quite upset, but it’s an amazing thing to watch,” outside linebacker Junior Galette said. “He’s everything that we expected him to be so far.”
“I see that he’s zero to 60 real fast. That’s why we took him with the first-round pick,” inside linebacker David Hawthorne said. “He’s a young guy with a heck of a lot of potential.”
Also scoring touchdowns were tight end Jimmy Graham (on a short pass from Luke McCown), as well as running backs Mark Ingram, Travaris Cadet and rookie Derrick Strozier. Ingram scored on a 5-yard run, while Cadet used a hard cutback to his left to score from roughly 25 yards out. Strozier ran in a sweep from about 10 yards.
New Orleans’ running game, which ranked 25th in the NFL last season, thrived in the scrimmage. Ingram’s day included a long run through the middle.
Right tackle Zach Strief said he can sense the chemistry between the offensive line and ball carriers improving.
“Guys are more comfortable with it,” Strief said. “The more confident you are in what you are in what you’re doing, the faster you’re going to play. And that’s the key to this game, you know, how fast can you make the right decisions. ... There were some good creases there.”
A crowd of more than 4,200 fans filled stands and an embankment along the Saints’ picturesque training camp fields at The Greenbrier resort in the Allegheny mountains. Some could be heard expressing disappointment when they realized they would not get to see Brees play.
Brees was disappointed as well, Strief said, but the star quarterback is expected to recover quickly.
“I know it’s really hard for Drew to stand there and not be in pads and not be with his guys,” Strief said.