In this Sept. 7, 2017, file photo, New England Patriots wide receiver Brandin Cooks (14) catches a pass as Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Terrance Mitchell (39) defends during the second half of an NFL football game, in Foxborough, Mass. Cooks was coming off his second straight 1,100-yard receiving season when he was dealt by the Saints to the Patriots this offseason. He returns to New Orleans to face his former team in Week 2.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Brandin Cooks arrived in New England excited to join what was already a stacked stable of receivers for Tom Brady to throw to.
A week into the regular season, that group looks vastly different than it did entering the preseason.
Julian Edelman is out for the year with a knee injury. Malcolm Mitchell is on injured reserve with his own knee issue. Danny Amendola suffered a concussion and knee injury in the Patriots’ Week 1 loss to Kansas City.
Suddenly, what was supposed to be one of the Patriots’ most dependable units is showing cracks. It has shined a spotlight on Cooks as he prepares for a road matchup with the Saints team that traded him this offseason.
“I just look at it as another game. I feel like when you start to get hyped up too much, you psyche yourself out,” Cooks said. “So I’m just really looking forward to Week 2 and playing some football.”
Playing some football over his first three seasons in the league is exactly what put Cooks on the Patriots’ offseason target list. New England eventually spent a first- and third-round pick to acquire the 2014 first rounder, who is coming off back-to-back 1,100-yard receiving seasons.
There were rumbles before the trade that Cooks was unhappy in New Orleans and that it perhaps contributed to the Saints being willing to part with him.
But Cooks made it clear earlier this summer there was no truth to those rumors.
“I felt like we left off on a great note,” Cooks said. “I love the fans. But hey, I don’t know. It’s an away game. So you’re expecting what away game fans are gonna give you, right?”
When Cooks was with the Saints, he and quarterback Drew Brees worked out together in the summer near Brees’ offseason San Diego home. That didn’t take place this year, but Brees said they still remain good friends.
“It just happens to be that he’s on the other side of the ball this week coming back here to New Orleans,” Brees said. “Obviously he was a great part of this team for three years and I wish him the best of success, although I’d rather him not go off in this game.”
One of the things that attracted the Patriots to Cooks was his ability to stretch the field. He was a deep target for Brees, and other times Cooks was able to show off his breakaway speed and knack for turning short passes into long gains.
With Edelman unavailable in Week 1, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels lined up Chris Hogan in Edelman’s normal slot position on multiple downs. If Hogan continues in that capacity, the role he filled on the outside last season is open for Cooks.
“We can’t let Brandin Cooks get a deep ball,” Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro said “You can run your curls, whatever your little routes are besides the home run ball, but when you put on the tape, Brandin Cooks is running deep a lot. That’ll definitely be something that we have to stop.”
Cooks was targeted seven times in Week 1, pulling in three catches for 88 yards. He got the bulk of that on one play, hauling in a 54-yard reception in the third quarter.
One of Cooks’ other strengths in New Orleans, Vaccaro said, was his ability to break down defenses in the film room.
“I know he’s studying and I know he’s doing all his little rituals that Brandin Cooks does,” Vaccaro said. “But at the same time, we’ve practiced against him. I know his strengths and weaknesses and our coaches do, too. So, I hope that will give us an advantage.”
Cooks said he’s ready for the challenge.
“Especially after a nasty one last week,” Cooks said. “I’m excited to get back working with the guys, going in doing what we have to do to play a great game.”