With this week's minicamp open to the fans, the dynamic receiver has generated the first big "ooooh" from the crowd on two straight days. Wednesday's first one came when Cooks caught a deep pass from Drew Brees early in team drills.
Then he one-upped himself later in practice, when backup quarterback Luke McCown lofted a deep pass that looked like a punt -- and Cooks turned on the jets to go get it for a touchdown.
Cooks also flashed that burst of speed a day earlier with an end-around run. In other words, the second-year pro has been doing the same kinds of things in this minicamp that he did during last year’s training camp and for the first 10 weeks of the season before he was sidelined by a broken thumb.
When asked if Cooks is back to the same level now that he's healthy, Brees said, "Beyond. Further along."
“Obviously, that was a tough deal losing him with six or seven games to go, but his focus from the minute he got healthy was phenomenal,” said Brees, who spent time training with Cooks this offseason in San Diego. “That guy was ready to go back in February. You had to tell him, ‘Hey, slow down, young buck, we’ve still got some time.’ But he’s been chomping at the bit. And just watching him out here, I see so much progress, just from a confidence standpoint, his trust and knowledge of the offense now having been in it for a year and just how explosive he is. He’s hard to cover.”
I've written about Cooks after just about every practice that's been open to the media this spring. Hard as it is to believe, Cooks said he expects to play even faster in Year 2 now that he won't be thinking as much on the field. And he looks primed to emerge as New Orleans' No. 1 weapon -- especially following the departures of tight end Jimmy Graham and receiver Kenny Stills.
Some other highs and lows from Wednesday’s practice:
Backup QB Ryan Griffin had a big day while working with the second-string offense (he and McCown rotate daily). Griffin made a fantastic throw to tight end Benjamin Watson on a deep out, throwing to a spot where only Watson could reach it -- and Watson's catch was also outstanding. Then Griffin was the only QB to get the Saints into the end zone during sets of two-minute drills at the end of practice. Griffin hit tight end Josh Hill for the TD.
Brees looked sharp on several throws throughout practice, but his day ended in frustration. He threw a deep, fluttering pass that was intercepted by safety Rafael Bush in the end zone to kill his first two-minute drill. It's possible that Brees was expecting a different route from receiver Seantavius Jones since he went to talk with him afterward, but the throw was ill-advised regardless. Brees' other two-minute drill stalled as well -- thanks in large part to a nice pass breakup by rookie cornerback P.J. Williams against Cooks.
So far this offseason, the veteran Watson has actually outshone the more highly touted and younger Hill at tight end. But both will have increased opportunities in the wake of the Graham trade. When Griffin was asked if he threw to Hill because he was open or because they’re friends, he said, "Both. ... We've worked on that certain play a lot. It's kind of like a double move. ... It's not necessarily like a called play. We kind of improvise on that one."
Young defensive backs got a ton of experience with the starting defense Wednesday. Rookie Damian Swann got snaps as the first-string nickel corner while Delvin Breaux was out with an undisclosed injury -- then Williams made a cameo after veteran Brandon Browner went down with apparent cramps. And safety Vinnie Sunseri replaced injured starter Kenny Vaccaro (hamstring) with the starters. ... Veteran safety Kenny Phillips, who is attempting a comeback after being out since 2012, also joined the starters in dime packages.
Another veteran sneaking under the radar is receiver Josh Morgan, who seems to make a handful of catches each day in practice. He's stuck in a crowd of young receivers vying for roster spots but can't be ignored, especially now that he's been reunited with his former position coach with the San Francisco 49ers, John Morton.
The Saints will wrap up their three-day minicamp and their entire offseason workout program Thursday and won't report back to work until training camp opens in West Virginia on July 29.