Brandin Cooks creates even more buzz by 'crushing' Saints conditioning test

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- The legend of Brandin Cooks only continued to grow last week when the second-year receiver dominated the New Orleans Saints’ conditioning test.

The intense workout, which coach Sean Payton introduced in 2013, is a CrossFit-inspired series of exercises designed to test speed, agility, strength and endurance.

Turns out, that’s the perfect storm for Cooks, whose blinding speed is no secret and who is deceptively strong for his 5-foot-10, 189-pound frame.

“Oh, he crushed it,” said Saints running back C.J. Spiller, another dynamic speedster who wouldn’t concede that Cooks is faster than him but had no problem admitting that he got shown up in the training camp ritual.

“I think because I’m not used to doing that type of CrossFit,” Spiller explained. “But that showed me he’s definitely in shape. … He killed me on that conditioning test.”

“He was outstanding,” echoed Payton, who said Cooks topped everyone else on the roster. “He was amazing. He’s in shape, he’s strong. He handled it real well.”

Cooks said the parts of the test that required running were no problem since “I can run all day.” But he said pushing the Prowler blocking sled was the part where “I had to buckle down and actually get in my zone.”

“I just wanted to set the tone for the guys,” Cooks said. “I put in so much work in the offseason, I wasn’t going to let this conditioning test crush me.”

That ought to give you a glimpse of where Cooks is at both physically and mentally heading into his second NFL season.

The first-round draft pick out of Oregon State was off to a great start last year when he suffered a season-ending broken thumb in Week 11. At the time, he was leading all rookie receivers from the NFL's stellar 2014 draft class with 53 catches. He had 550 yards and three touchdowns and was just starting to emerge as a deep threat after mostly being limited to shorter routes designed to get him open in space.

Cooks has been amped to start building off of that ever since.

He said the thumb injury hasn’t changed anything about the way he catches the football physically. “The only thing it did was make me more humble and more motivated to do big things this year,” he said.

Cooks is poised to emerge as a leading man in New Orleans’ offense now that Jimmy Graham is gone. And he said he expects to play even faster now that he’s not thinking so much -- a scary thought for opposing defenses.

Cooks spent much of the offseason working out with quarterback Drew Brees in Brees’ offseason home of San Diego, something that already has been paying dividends on the practice field.

“(There have been) incidents in camp that I may line up and he may give me this look, and he won’t give me any type of signal, but I see what he’s seeing and we end up being on the same page,” Cooks said. “It’s good to have that. That work in the offseason definitely helped.”

Cooks’ intense work ethic and desire are nothing new. Coaches and teammates have raved about those qualities since he was drafted with the 20th pick out of Oregon State.

And though he has received plenty of accolades -- including the Biletnikoff Award as college football’s most outstanding receiver in 2013 -- Cooks definitely has the proverbial chip on his shoulder.

That shined through when someone referred to him as a “smaller receiver” in a media session Thursday. Cooks kind of snickered as he repeated the phrase. Then when someone asked if he doesn’t like to be called a smaller receiver, Cooks said, “Not at all.”

“It’s one of those things like saying a guy’s not a prototype receiver,” Cooks said. “But what is your prototype? A guy who can catch the ball, can run good routes, has speed. I guess the tall part is the factor that I’m missing, but I feel like I’m doing those other things at a high level.”

Cooks, who caught 128 passes for 1,730 yards as a junior in 2013, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.33 seconds at the NFL scouting combine and posted the fastest 20- and 60-yard shuttle times in a decade (3.81 and 10.72 seconds).

Cooks welcomed comparisons to the NFL’s top receiver from last year, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 5-10, 186-pound Antonio Brown. And Cooks picked the brain this offseason of one of the Saints’ all-time nemeses -- former Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith, who is now with the Baltimore Ravens.

“(We talked about) the way he uses his size to his advantage,” Cooks said of the 5-9, 195-pound Smith. “We watched a lot of film together, I picked up some things about the way he thought about the game and the way he uses his leverage.

“There’s definitely creative ways to use my speed, use my quickness. The way I can be so quick changing directions to get those bigger corners on their heels, smaller corners, whatever the case may be.

“I use my height to my advantage.”