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John DeShazier: Brandin Cooks ready to blaze new trail in second season

Cooks says he's playing freely now

Photos of the New Orleans Saints OTA on June 10, 2015. Photos by Alex Restrepo (New Orleans Saints photos)

If Brandin Cooks moved much faster on a football field, he'd be approaching a blur – which, apparently, is the goal that the receiver has in mind.

A year into his NFL career, the New Orleans Saints' 2014 first-round pick said he's thinking less and reacting more, getting from points A to B in less time because he's carrying less mental clutter. So if it appeared at times that he didn't always bring with him that 4.33-second 40 that he sizzled at the NFL Combine, don't worry.

He's ready to blaze a new trail.

"It is (possible to play faster), just because I'm taking the thinking out of it," Cooks said. "Some of that thinking I was doing last year can really slow you down. So when you take that out of it, now you're just out there playing freely, and that's what it's all about.

"It's just being confident out there on the field and really knowing my playbook down to a 'T.' So it's taking the thinking part out of it when it comes to that, and being able to play faster."

"He's in his second year with a lot more knowledge of what we're doing," Coach Sean Payton said Wednesday. "That allows the player to play a little faster. He's healthy and he's doing well. He's progressed well."

Cooks' rookie season, while abbreviated, was a fairly successful one and a good foundation on which to build.

He caught 53 passes for 550 yards and three touchdowns, and ran seven times for 73 yards and a touchdown. He posted games of 94, 90, 77 and 74 receiving yards and had seven games of at least five receptions.

But he also missed the last six games of the season with a broken thumb. And the injury occurred just when it appeared that he was finding a groove – 18 catches for 272 yards and two touchdowns, and a 4-yard touchdown run, in his last four games.

Thus, few Saints were as eager as was Cooks to get back to work this offseason.

"It's very exciting to be back, I'm happy to be out there with my teammates, flying around out there on the field," he said. "(I'm) definitely ahead of where I was last year, mentally, knowing my plays and having that true confidence out there when I'm running around.

"Not finishing the season like that, there's definitely that thought of having unfinished business. So I'm just excited to be back out there and trying to stay healthy as much as I can, so I can fly around come Week 1."

It'll help that he's healthy and, perhaps as much, that his touches are almost guaranteed to increase.

With the top two receivers from last season – tight end Jimmy Graham and receiver Kenny Stills – gone to Seattle and Miami via offseason trades, respectively, Cooks' role in the offense is expected to expand.

"It's going to be interesting to see how they use me, how they use all of us," he said. "No matter what, I know they're going to use us in the right way and to our strengths."

"He's part of the package, he's part of what we do," Payton said. "Certainly, he'll probably get more snaps. When he got hurt, it was kind of incomplete. I think you'll see a player who's healthy, in his second year, (and has) got a lot of knowledge of what we're doing. I think he's looking forward to having a good season."

Cooks said he has been sharpening his technique, one of the corrections he felt was necessary after watching himself on film from 2014. All of the studying, on and off the field, will help put him in position to succeed.

"He's someone that's a quick learner so he was able to pick things up fairly quickly for a rookie," Payton said. "I think right now, he's in good shape and running around well. For him, it's Year 2 of a system so it's a little bit easier with the learning curve."

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