Brandin Cooks has a simple goal after missing the last six games of his rookie season, his hand injury derailing the fact that he appeared to be warming to the task and flashing the abilities that made him the New Orleans Saints' first-round pick last year.
"That injury has made me hungrier," Cooks said. "It was definitely a hard offseason. I worked my tail off to come back. I want to shock the world. That's the ultimate plan."
The plan definitely appeared to be developing nicely in the Saints' preseason home opener, a 26-24 loss to New England at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Saturday night.
Cooks victimized the Patriots' secondary with four catches for 117 yards and a touchdown, a 45-yarder from Drew Brees. In the first quarter, when the teams matched starting units on offense and defense, Cooks caught three passes for 81 yards and his picturesque touchdown, helping the Saints take a 15-0 lead that eventually swelled to 21-0.
!"We obviously had a lot of trouble there in the first half, particularly the first quarter, starting with Brandin Cooks," New England Coach Bill Belichick said. "I'm glad we don't have to play him twice a year, he's not in our division. He's a really good player."
That conclusion doesn't come across as particularly shocking news to those who saw Cooks last year begin to blossom before his season was ended by injury.
Overall, he caught 53 passes for 550 yards and three touchdowns. But in his last four games, he caught 19 passes for 272 yards and two touchdowns, and had receptions of 50 and 40 yards. Too, he posted his only rushing touchdown of the season (from 4 yards out) in his final four games.
Though interrupted, he has been able to pick up the momentum and continue it throughout the offseason and training camp. Quarterback Drew Brees called Cooks a tireless worker who sometimes has to be advised to take a break and last week, during the Saints' joint practices with the Patriots at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., Cooks stood out against New England's defensive backs.
"I thought it was an impressive week by Brandin, not just the game but the week of practices against New England and then the game itself," Coach Sean Payton said. "Something like that goes a long way for the growth of a player, and you begin to see that with certain guys.
"With all these guys, there are certain things they do, their strengths. Things that he does particularly well – he's very quick in and out of his cuts and he's very explosive. He's a tireless worker and his attention to detail is one of the things that is unique. It's pretty special."
That attention to detail, combined with speed that had him clocked as the fastest player at the NFL Combine in 2014, helped Cooks zip through the Patriots' secondary and catch Brees spiral in stride, the second touchdown for New Orleans in the quarter and the 45-yard cap to a 186-yard outburst in the first quarter.
"It was just a great play call," Cooks said. "Drew put the ball where it needs to be. All I have to do is catch the ball. He did all of the hard work. I did the easy part."
The "easy" part looked easy, indeed. If and when it becomes routine, it's the part that will make him much less of a shock for the football world.