In his first few days on the job, Chris Palmer had not drawn a lot of conclusions about his players with the Tennessee Titans. There was one player in particular, though, who immediately drew the interest of the team’s new offensive coordinator.
“The Cook guy, I want to get my hands around him right away and find out what he’s all about,” Palmer said. “Because I think he’s a special talent.”
Palmer is not the first one to feel that way.
The Titans’ personnel department thought enough of Jared Cook that General Manager Mike Reinfeldt traded a 2010 second-round pick in order to select the tight end out of South Carolina in the third round of the 2009 draft.
Ever since, Titans’ fans have been waiting to see what seems so apparent to those well-trained eyes. In two seasons, the 6-foot-5, 248-pound Cook has started just one game and scored a single touchdown.
It is possible that no player on offense will reveal more about the impact of the revamped coaching staff this fall than Cook. After all, running back Chris Johnson has one of the most productive seasons in NFL history to his credit. Wide receiver Kenny Britt has shown the only thing between him and big numbers week after week is his health.
Cook, on the other hand, remains an unpolished gem, one who seemingly has the potential to sparkle as brightly as anyone else on the team, particularly at a time when tight ends such as Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, Vernon Davis and Dallas Clark are producing at unprecedented rates.
“It doesn’t matter where I go, it doesn’t matter what my scheme is, it doesn’t matter who is running the ball or throwing it, everybody is going to be productive,” Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray said of his experience coaching against Palmer. “That is what you do. … That is a sign of a good coach to me.”
Tight end often has been a productive, albeit not a prolific, position for the Titans.
Frank Wycheck led the team in receptions every year from 1996-2000. Only twice during that span did he average more than 10 yards per reception and only once did he catch as many as five touchdown passes in a single season. Bo Scaife led the team in catches in 2008 but averaged just 9.7 yards and scored two touchdowns.
Last season in the NFL, there were 13 tight ends who finished with at least 50 receptions. All but three of them averaged better than 10 yards per catch and eight of them scored five or more touchdowns.
Cook averaged 12.4 yards on 29 receptions. More than half of his catches came in the final three games, when he finally got consistent and meaningful playing time.
“It [was] just an opportunity to get more experience and game time,” Cook said the day after the final game. “Bo always told me that once you get used to playing the game, it’s nothing like practice. He was right, and I think it’s helped me come along pretty well.
“I’ll carry it right into next year.”
With Scaife unlikely to return in 2011, Cook will enter the season as the team’s top receiving threat at that position.
Palmer already has targeted him.