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    Burwell: Rams Are Cookin' At Tight End

    Burwell: Rams are Cookin' at tight end

    11 hours ago • Byran Burwell

    On the first day of full-squad practice at Rams training camp last Thursday, the biggest roar from the crowd at Rams Park was for the smallest man on the roster. There was pocket-sized rookie Tavon Austin catching a 3-yard pass route, pirouetting on a dime and scooting up field like he was channeling Barry Sanders.

    It was a marvelous flash of athleticism, a dazzling glimpse into one of the more dynamic possibilities for this refurbished Rams offense. And yes, the enthusiastic crowd was giddy just imagining how much fun it will be when the explosive first-round pick takes over Danny Amendola’s role as Sam Bradford’s new security blanket.

    Well, as much fun as Austin should prove to be, my money’s on the other new guy on the field who’s 4 years older, nine inches taller, 74 pounds heavier and just as likely to line up in as many positions in this passing attack as the zephyr-quick rookie.

    Tight end Jared Cook could be everything to this offense. Tight end, H-back, fullback, slot receiver, wide receiver. One of the reasons the Rams quickly scooped him up in the free-agent market, signing him away from the Tennessee Titans to a five-year, $35.1 million deal, was the belief that Cook can be the sort of multi-dimensional headache for defenses that all the best modern tight ends are supposed to be.

    If this revamped Rams offense is going to work as well as the organization believes it can, you’re going to be seeing a lot of Cook racing down the middle of the football field making plays.

    I’m not here to recite any advanced metrics that might provide you with all sorts of exotic explanations for why Cook should be such a dangerous and explosive toy for Bradford.

    Instead, I’ll use another toy of our modern culture that works so much better. Google “Jared Cook Titans 2012 highlights,” and watch the video of this large, graceful man gliding through NFL defenses last season. He’s leaping over undersized defensive backs or shedding them like bothersome debris. He’s too fast for over-matched linebackers, outracing them down the seam or up the sideline.

    He’s in the slot one moment, in the backfield the next. He’s split like a wide receiver, then he’s a tight end, a fullback, an H-back.

    “I’m sort of a hybrid tight end who can run very fast,” he says with a Cheshire cat grin.

    How fast?

    He’s run 4.49 in the 40, and says he’s run faster. At 6-foot-5, 248 pounds, that’s freakishly fast, and he leaps like a basketball forward, too.

    There are a lot of important people who need to play well in this offense this season, but if Cook plays up to his promise, Bradford could have a breakout season that would put him back in the conversation as one of the game’s most promising young quarterback talents.

    Cook believes he was underutilized with Tennessee. And the Rams sold him hard on how much they would feature him in this offense the way Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Tony Gonzalez, Vernon Davis and Jason Witten are featured as Pro Bowl-caliber tight ends elsewhere.

    “They were telling me about the talent that was going to be around me,” he said after practice recently. “It was just mostly about utilizing my talents and about putting me on stage a little bit more. ... And I was drinking from the water.”

    And now he’s here in St. Louis and you could see throughout minicamps, offseason workouts and the early days of training camp how the coaches are sticking to that plan. Watch the team break from the huddle and you never know where you’ll see Cook line up and what sort of personnel package will be surrounding him.

    “It’s a different type of offense,” he said. “They put their players in a position that they need to be in. They move everyone around and try to find ways to get each individual the ball. It’s kind of like the love’s being spread all around ...”

    Although Cook is listed as a tight end, it almost feels as if he’s taken over Amendola’s slot position in the offense. But the longer you look at this offense, the more you realize this is not even remotely the same offense that Bradford was running last year with the reliable slot man.

    It’s the same offensive coordinator. It’s the same playbook. But it just feels like every day they’re opening that playbook to pages that never were opened last year.

    There are other times when it feels as if with Cook, Austin, Chris Givens, Brian Quick, Austin Pettis and rookie Stedman Bailey all rotating in and out of the lineup, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and Bradford are creating new pages for this offense on the fly.

    “I think it’s a little of both,” Cook said. “A lot of stuff that they may have had in the playbook last year, they never utilized entirely because it’s really an entirely different system. There are so many new pieces and you have to figure out how to get all these new pieces the ball. So in a sense it’s the same system, but not really.”

    There’s speed, there’s size, there’s explosiveness, there’s quickness, there’s versatility.

    That’s the giddy up side to all of this.

    The nervous down side?

    A lot of this offense’s success is hinged on a lot of young players reaching their potential at the same time.

    If it all works — and particularly if Cook can prove to the Titans that they wasted his football gifts — the biggest ooooohs and ahhhhs in the Edward Jones Dome will be for the tight end who defies description.
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    Re: Burwell: Rams Are Cookin' At Tight End

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