White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. – What could've been a 50-50 ball, perhaps even should have been a 50-50 ball, was made into no such thing at all.
Brandin Cooks saw to that.
The rookie receiver sped down the right side of the field, crossed in front of his defender, kept his body between his opponent and the football and uncoiled to make a leaping grab, falling to the turf at The Greenbrier resort about 45 yards from where Drew Brees launched the pass.
No one has questioned Cooks' speed; he ran the second-fastest time (a 4.33-second 40) at this year's NFL Combine. But the totality of his athleticism might not have been as obvious.
In one play, the 5-foot-10, 189-pounder made it a lot clearer.
"It was an interesting play because there are some different things you see on film and it is harder for a player with his stature, farther down the field you go," New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton said. "Often times it is harder to make plays above your head, but it was a good play in traffic. It was good to see."
Cooks, for his part, showed he's a quick learner and wise teammate, too, deferring praise while handing it away.
"(Brees) also threw a great ball," he said. "Like a receiver says, if it touches your hand you've got to go get it. That's what we take pride in, that's what we work at. I just want to make him look good."
The first-round pick from Oregon State apparently will have the chance to do that, and more, for the Saints this season.
He'll have opportunities in the kicking game, too. He could be the team's top punt returner and its No. 2 kickoff returner. Or, perhaps, he could top the depth chart at both positions; the more ways the Saints can get the ball in his hands, the more chances he'll have to score from anywhere on the field.
But his first responsibility is as a receiver, and it's not a job he takes lightly.
"I take pride in catching the ball because without being able to catch the ball, you can't play," he said. "I can be as fast as I want to be but one of the things I work on, day in and day out, is catching balls so I can be consistent in that area, too."
And catching the kind he snagged Friday, in the Saints' first practice of training camp, will inspire confidence from the man throwing him the ball, who he worked out with prior to the beginning of training camp.
"I was able to spend time in San Diego with Drew, on our little break," Cooks said. "So that caught me up (in the playbook). So when I came out here I was a little up to par and it's just gaining day by day."
Brees said young receivers like Cooks keep him infused with energy. Cooks said he also gains a significant benefit from being in the same locker room as Brees.
"I'm keeping him young and he's giving me the knowledge," he said.
Add that to the lessons he's learning from his seasoned teammates, and the Saints absolutely appear to be getting something more than just a smallish receiver that runs fast.
"I take pride in that," Cooks said. "Obviously, you like your big guys but some special things come from us smaller guys that some bigger guys can't do.
"I'm learning that everyone is smarter on the field. The pace is not that much faster than college, but those vets out there do this for a living. They've been playing for plenty of years. So I have to gain more knowledge on watching film and things like that."
First gallery of photos from the third practice of 2014 New Orleans Saints Training Camp presented by Verizon at The Greenbrier on Sunday, July 27, 2014. Photos taken by Michael C. Hebert (New Orleans Saints photos)