Glenn Guilbeau / USA TODAY Sports
METAIRIE – The way his syllabus is progressing, Saints’ first round pick Brandin Cooks may be relieved when training camp finally opens on July 24 in West Virginia.
Unlike most players bound for the NFL, Cooks stayed enrolled after the 2013 football season at Oregon State because he promised his mother he would graduate. Since Oregon State is on an 11-week, quarter system instead of the customary two-semesters-a-year format, he missed all of the Saints’ mini-camp two weeks ago and most of the team’s voluntary practices in recent weeks while he was in school in Corvallis, Ore.
Cooks had his first exposure to full squad practices with the Saints last week during two voluntary organized team activity sessions (OTAs).
“It was good,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “He’s doing well. What you try to do with a young player is give him certain elements so it’s not keeping the progress of the overall offense back. But you try to see how much he’s able to retain and then continue to build on that.”
Drafted with the 20th pick of the first round in May as a junior, Cooks did not want to stop or postpone building toward his degree in human development.
“I’ll be the first one in my family to get a degree,” he said after an indoor practice on Thursday. “I promised my mom I’d make sure I get that degree as soon as I can. I’m not going to take all that time off (while in the NFL) and try to come back. I’m going to keep pounding now.”
While the Saints are off until training camp, Cooks will be taking a couple more classes in his spare time online.
“After this, I’ll have about 15 more credits left. I should be done by the winter time,” he said.
Cooks, 20, has also enrolled for a two-week crash course at another school – the University of Brees at San Diego.
“I’ll go back to Oregon State this week and work out a little bit,” he said. “And after that, I’ll go down to San Diego and train with Drew Brees and get familiar with him and get clicking.”
Brees, the Saints quarterback and former Charger who keeps a home in San Diego, missed valuable time with Cooks while Cooks was matriculating in Corvallis. He wants to see more of him in person.
“Oh man, I’ve seen all the highlights, and that guy gets you excited,” Brees, who had no one with great speed to throw to last season with Joe Morgan hurt and Devery Henderson out of football, told USA Today last week. “I think he can do a lot of things. I think he can play outside receiver. I think he can play in the slot. You can hand him reverses.”
There was a reverse to Cooks on Thursday in the non-contact practice, and it resulted in a touchdown as Cooks showed off his speed. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.33 seconds at the NFL Combine last February.
“Oh, I like that a lot,” Cooks said. “I’m used to that. That’s backyard for me. We did that a lot at Oregon State. We did the fly sweep, so when we put that in here I was kind of smiling from ear to ear.”
Last season at Oregon State, Cooks rushed 32 times for 217 yards when he wasn’t leading the nation in receiving yards with 1,730 on 128 receptions. He won the Fred Biletnikoff award given to the nation’s best receiver, and he even equaled Saints’ tight end Jimmy Graham in touchdowns with 16.
“You hope that whenever you add speed to the field it stretches the defense both in the passing game and the running game,” Payton said.
“He’s a very versatile player, a very explosive player that you just want to get the ball in his hands in space,” Brees said. “And good things will happen.”
Brees will have Cooks all to himself in his space.
“It’s a dream come true I’m able to do that,” Cooks said. “I’m excited. I’ll probably spend a couple of weeks with him. It’s very critical due to the fact that I missed about two or three weeks in OTAs (organized team activities – practice) and haven’t been able to throw with him all day. So that’s what we’ll get done while I’m out there.”
Brees and Cooks did study together after practices last week.
“It’s been amazing watching film with him and getting used to each other,” Cooks said. “We throw a little bit extra so we can get that timing down. There’s advice every day that he’s giving me. I’ve got to watch a lot of film, and that’s the thing. You can put it on pen and paper, but once you get in the game and everything changes, you’ve got to know how to react.”
Cooks is familiar with studying. During his last term at Oregon State, he was also digesting Saints’ practice film from mini-camp and OTAs sent to his IPad along with the playbook. The NCAA’s 20-hour rule did not apply.
“Every day an hour of film a day was on there from practice,” Cooks said. “So I was able to watch that and see what the receivers were doing. Watched every day I’d say about an hour or two a night. I also had to make sure I was getting my school done, too.”
The school of Brees awaits.
“He’s a tremendous young man,” Brees said. “Loves to learn.”