There might be no better sign of Jared Cook’s development than if he is held to little or no receptions Sunday by the New England Patriots.
“He’s a guy that New England may double-[team],” Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer said. “… We’re going to be in a situation where Bill Belichick and his staff — a good defensive staff — will dictate to us what we can and can’t do, and we’ll adjust accordingly.”
Cook, a fourth-year tight end, talked throughout the offseason about the need for improved consistency. More than 60 percent of his career-high 49 receptions in 2011 came in the final six weeks of the season. Similarly, 24 of his 29 the previous season were in the final six games.
In two season-openers (he was inactive as a rookie in 2009) he has just one reception for seven yards.
Even so, Palmer figures the Patriots are likely to start with Cook in addition to wide receiver Nate Washington, Tennessee’s leading pass catcher last fall, and running back Chris Johnson, a 2,000-yard rusher in 2009, when they set about trying to stop the Titans’ offense.
If Belichick and his staff are so inclined, the expectation is they probably can figure a way to keep the ball out of Cook’s hands, which would be a real show of respect for his development.
“They’re going to dictate where the ball is going to be,” Palmer said. “The Patriot coaching staff is saying, ‘Hey, we can’t let Johnson or we can’t let Washington or Cook beat us. Those three guys we have to contain.’
“Then it will be the other guys who have to step up and make plays.”
His feeling on which players worry New England the most is not just a shot in the dark. It is based on experience.
Palmer and Belichick have coached against each other as coordinators — Belichick was a long-time defensive coordinator under Bill Parcells — and as head coaches, or some combination of the two. Most recently, Palmer was the quarterbacks coach for the New York Giants in 2009, when they beat New England in the Super Bowl for the first time.
“He knows what to expect and I know what to expect from him so it should be a good chess match,” Palmer said. “… If we start to hurt them in some phase of our game-plan they’ll adjust accordingly and we’ll have to make adjustments as well to match those adjustments.”
It was the year the two spent together on New England’s staff (1996), however, that might have provided the most valuable insight for each as they prepare for this contest.
“We talked a lot of football and exchanged ideas and thoughts in the passing game and offensively and defensively and play calling and all those kind of things,” Belichick said. “It was a real good year with Chris. I certainly learned a lot from him and had a lot of respect for the job he did … and the job he has done throughout the course of his career offensively developing quarterbacks and offensive systems in all the different places he has coached at.”
Ever since the Titans hired him shortly after the 2010 season, Palmer publicly has expressed his desire to feature Cook, who is 6-foot-5, 248 pounds with good speed and better-than-average hands, in his attack.
“He had a pretty good year last year,” Palmer said. “I think he fit into our offense very, very well.”
Well enough, in fact, that New England might try to take him out of it for this game.