Tight end Jared Cook wants to be a difference-maker with the Rams. And it seems the team is more than willing to give him that chance.
Cook, 26, certainly looks the part. At 6 feet 5 and and 248 pounds, he runs the 40 in 4.49 seconds and is versatile enough to play on the line, in the backfield, in the slot or even out wide. His combination of size, top-end speed and athletic ability enables him to stretch the field and create matchup nightmares for opposing defenses.
He was the Rams’ first big-ticket purchase of the offseason, signing a five-year, $35.1 million deal less than three hours into free agency.
Cook, who played his college ball at South Carolina, was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the third round of the 2009 draft and enjoyed two unspectacular seasons while playing for Jeff Fisher. Following a bit of a breakout season in 2011, when he caught 49 passes for 759 yards (15.5 per catch) and three touchdowns, Cook — and the rest of the Tennessee offense — fell off last year, when he finished with 44 catches for 523 yards and four scores.
In 2012, the Titans ranked 22nd in passing yards per game (207.7), 23rd in completion percentage (58.9) and 27th in passing touchdowns (17).
“That offense really didn’t suit me,’’ Cook said . “It didn’t fit me. That’s just how it is. Every team a player goes to, the fit is not perfect. Some guys have to move around to two or three teams before they find the perfect fit.’’
But Cook, who was also pursued by the Miami Dolphins, likes what he has seen so far in St. Louis. “I think I’m on an elevator going up,” he said in his first meeting with the local media.
This will mark the third and final week of offseason workouts for veterans at Rams Park, with the rookies sticking around for another week. Fisher likes the overall progress that the team has made and has been impressed with Cook’s play.
“What we’re getting from Jared out there is what we expected,’’ the coach said. “The ball’s going around, we’re matching him up, we’re creating mismatches, he’s making plays.
“Whether or not (he was underutilized with Tennessee), we feel like he can add a dimension to our offense that we don’t have.’’
With Cook and third-year pro Lance Kendricks, who is currently slowed by a knee injury, the Rams could end up with one of the better tight end tandems in the league. Kendricks was among the team’s top receivers a year ago, finishing with 42 catches for 519 yards and four touchdowns.
But, as Fisher mentioned, Cook provides a skill set that makes him more of a slot receiver.
Cook said his ability to make plays down the field is “one of my specialties that separates me from, I guess, a traditional tight end.’
Second-year receiver Chris Givens, who led the team with 698 receiving yards a year ago, is excited to have Cook in the mix.
“He adds something we didn’t have before,’’ Givens said. “The more weapons we have, the more it opens things up for everybody on the field.’’
Through the first two weeks of practices, Cook and quarterback Sam Bradford seem to have made a connection.
“He’s good. I don’t know if you guys noticed that, he’s good,’’ Bradford kidded when asked his early impressions of Cook. “Cookie’s been great so far. Just the added dimension. Obviously, Lance has some speed, but now we have (Cook) and Lance, that’s a lot of speed inside. He’s a big body running down the middle of the field. It’s going to be hard for people to match up with him. If they want to put a ‘Mike’ linebacker on him, then we’ll take that matchup all day. It’s just going to give us the ability to open the playbook and kind of stretch the middle of the field and put stress on the defense.’’
Cook has been similarly impressed with Bradford, his accuracy and his feel for the game.
“I’ve always kind of had to use my catch radius and make kind of circus catches,’’ Cook said. “Not so much here. (Bradford) puts it right on the money, and he makes good reads. He’s going to hold onto it before he throws interceptions, which is being a smart quarterback. That’s part of being a veteran quarterback, not making dumb decisions, being conscious about your decision-making.’’