Cook works his way into probable starring role for Titans

Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 10:50pm

Jared Cook figures the fatigue will be worth it. Eventually.

“I sure do hope so with all this running I’m doing,” he said.

The Tennessee Titans third-year tight end admits he is tired at the end of training camp workouts in this, his third NFL season. It is not because he neglected his conditioning during the four-plus months that players were locked out by owners. Nor is it because the new coaching staff demands a pace that is particularly taxing.

It is just that the 2009 third-round draft pick out of South Carolina has a lot more to do now than he has at any other time during his career.

“I’ve been kind of behind the scenes for the past two years, just on special teams,” Cook said. “This is finally my chance to get a lot of plays, get some balls thrown at me and just kind of have fun with the offense.”

While he figures to be a featured performer, Cook will not be exactly front and center throughout the preseason, which begins Saturday against Minnesota (7 p.m., LP Field). He will be a lot of different places.

One feature of the scheme installed by first-year offensive coordinator Chris Palmer is that Cook, at 6-foot-5, 248 pounds, can line up in any number of different spots. Seemingly from all of them he can emerge as a primary target in the passing game.

Lest anyone think that makes him the latest in a line that includes Frank Wycheck and Bo Scaife, tight ends who led the team in receiving through an array of underneath and outlet routes. Think again.

“He’s got an Antonio Gates style about him,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “… They’re giving him chances to do everything.”

Gates, of course, is the San Diego Chargers tight end who twice has topped 1,000 yards receiving in his eight-year NFL career. He also has averaged more than 8.5 touchdowns per season, has been to the Pro Bowl the last seven years and has been named an All-Pro three times.

Cook, conversely, has caught just 38 passes – with one touchdown – in 30 career appearances. He has started just one time.

“I’m really happy with him,” Palmer said. “Of course, it’s my job as a coach to push him to a higher level. I think he’s a very talented young man.”

Palmer pondered Cook’s potential throughout the lockout when he watched film from previous seasons. Even in his earliest interviews after Mike Munchak hired him, Palmer singled out Cook as a potential impact player.

Titans scouts saw the same sorts of things a couple years earlier when they traded a second round pick the following year (2010) draft for the third-round choice they used on him.

Late last season, those things finally became evident to the average fan as Cook caught 24 passes for 292 yards over the final six games of the season. He set a career-high with 96 yards (on five catches) in the next-to-last contest, against Kansas City, and then added another with seven receptions in the finale against Indianapolis.

“We knew he had that kind of potential and now it’s starting to come out,” Munchak said. “I think Chris Palmer is real excited about him and has been since he first came in the door and watched the film. So we are expecting a big year out of him and he needs to have a good camp like a lot of them these next four weeks.”

Cook actually led the Titans last preseason with eight receptions and 132 yards. In the first seven weeks of the regular season, though, he caught just two balls.

Now he expects a lot more activity when it matters most.

“This is an opportunity I’ve been waiting on and I’m happy to take it,” he said. “I’m excited.”

Of course, there is a lot that he must practice between now and then in order to make sure he’s prepared.

“It was an opportunity for him to come out here and we’re believing in him,” Palmer said. “Now he sees that there’s a lot of play for him and it’s easier to get motivated to come out and practice.

“Now we just have to push him to a higher level and get him better.”

Not to mention help him deal with the fatigue.