BGA: Scouting Erik Cook

Bent, TheJetsBlog.com

Earlier this week, the Jets signed offensive lineman Erik Cook to their active roster. Jets fans might not know too much about Cook, so I’ve been looking at game footage in detail to investigate what he could bring to the table.

Cook was a seventh-round draft pick in 2010 and made his NFL debut in 2011, starting two games at center in place of an injured Kory Lichtensteiger. He was still with the Redskins in preseason last year, but was released on cut-down day and didn’t play for anyone during the regular season. With the recent injury to Dalton Freeman, the Jets need depth at the center position. Unlike Mossis Madu, Cook is practice squad eligible.

After the jump, I look in detail at footage from last preseason and from 2011 to evaluate some of his strengths and weaknesses.

Who is Erik Cook?

The 26-year old Cook is the younger brother of former second round pick Ryan Cook, who started 11 games last year for the Dallas Cowboys at guard. The younger Cook followed in his brother’s footsteps by going to college at New Mexico and was drafted in the seventh round in 2010.

He spent the majority of the 2010 season on the Redskins’ practice squad after failing to make the 53-man roster, but was added to the active roster late in the season (although he was not activated for any games). In 2011, he made the active roster and was active for six games. He played 55 of 60 snaps in his NFL debut in week seven, following an early injury to left guard Kory Lichtensteiger (although the Redskins opted to use Cook at center and move center Will Montgomery to left guard), then started the next two games. He featured in one other game on offense that season, for just one snap.

Cook is listed at 308 pounds, but was reportedly 320 pounds while at Washington and weighed in at 318 when he attended the combine. He’s also 6-6 which is considered pretty tall for a center, although he’s actually only an inch or two taller than most of the top centers in the league.

2011 Regular Season

Week 6 – Eagles

Called into action without any real preparation time, Cook acquitted himself reasonably well here, although he was driven into the backfield twice on two runs that were blown up. There was also a play where he held up initially in pass protection, but then let his man get off the block and pressure the quarterback late. That play ended up being an interception. Confusion at the line also led him to get called for two false starts.

Week 7 – Panthers

In his first NFL start, Cook did pretty well early on. He made a good block on the move to the right on a run that went for seven and then on the next play, walled off a run blitzer up the middle so that the runner could make seven more on the left side. Later on he made a good block moving to his left to pick up a linebacker at the point of attack and spring the runner to the second level for 17. As the game went on, he wore down and started to have more negative plays. As in his debut, he allowed penetration a couple of times and there was a second level block he failed to make because he didn’t get there in time. He was also responsible for a sack, as the Panthers fooled him by bringing a linebacker up to his shoulder and getting him to shoot the A-gap as the nose tackle dropped back. On balance this was his best game though.

Week 8 – Bills

To his credit, Cook didn’t have any negative plays against the run in this game, managing to prevent penetration. However, he struggled in pass protection, giving up four pressures. Two of these saw him driven back into the quarterback, one saw the pocket collapse as the defense ran a twist stunt and the other saw him lose leverage immediately at the snap, so the pass rusher was able to force his way into the quarterback. Two of these plays ended up as sacks for other players.

Week 15 – Giants

The only other game in which Cook featured was this one, as Cook came in for one play, at left guard and the Redskins got stuffed for no gain on third and short (although Cook wasn’t at fault).

2012 Preseason

It’s interesting to look at the footage from last preseason to see whether Cook made any progress. Despite being the number two center throughout preseason, he didn’t make the team, although that’s likely because Lichtensteiger can play center in a pinch and they opted to keep third round guard Josh LeRibeus instead because of his greater upside.

Week 1 – Bills

Cook entered the game in the first quarter and played until well into the fourth quarter. He started well, driving his man out of the play on the move, so that the runner could cut upfield behind him. He also did quite well in pass protection, although he was mostly double-teaming with a guard and twice a pass rusher was able to split the double team between him and the right guard to generate pressure. Some of his old problems resurfaced here, as he was driven into the backfield a couple of times and allowed penetration on a play where he ended up getting called for a hold. He also struggled at the second level, missing a couple of blocks and then tripping as he was in position to make a clean second level block, after which he punched the turf in frustration. It seemed like they were asking him to carry out more difficult assignments than they did when he was filling in during the 2011 season, for obvious reasons.

Week 2 – Bears

In this game, Cook entered at the start of the second half and played until deep in the fourth quarter. Again, he saw himself driven into the backfield, on consecutive plays, but this time he was able to do enough to keep the lineman from disrupting the play as the first one went for eight and the next one picked up the first down. Signs of improvement there, perhaps. He also was starting to look increasing comfortable in pass protection. Still mostly double teaming, he was holding his ground a lot better when one-on-one. They also converted a fourth down on a quarerback sneak behind him. One negative was a botched exchange between him and Rex Grossman, which led to a false start being charged to Grossman.

Week 3 – Colts

In this game, he entered the game halfway through the third quarter and played the rest of the game. He had one impressive reach block where he was able to turn his man back to the inside, although the run only gained a couple of yards. There was also another play like in the last game where the action went to the right and he was able to drive his man out of the play to create a cutback lane. On another block on the move, he failed to sustain the block and his man got in on the tackle. However, there were signs that he was making adjustments and improvements, as he was initially driven into the backfield but worked hard to recover and hold his ground and was bullrushed into the quarterback, but was able to anchor himself just long enough to enable a long throw to be completed down the field.

Week 4 – Bucs

With many starters rested, Cook started this game and played into the fourth quarter. He had an interesting battle with Frank Okam, who didn’t make the Bucs team but is an established NFL player who has started a total of six games in 2010 and 2011. There was some good and bad in this game from Cook, who made some good surging blocks at the point of attack and did have some success at the second level, as well as a good block where he turned his man to the outside. These were things we hadn’t seen much of from him in the previous games. He did allow some penetration, but only once did his man blow up a run. There were also a couple of plays where he allowed his man to get off his block at the second level. He mostly did a good job in pass protection although he allowed his man to eventually get off his block for a late pressure and there was one play where three men rushed into the backfield with only one back to pick them up, while Cook was double-teaming with the other guard, so someone screwed up the protection there.

Bonus: There are links to two touchdowns scored by the Redskins with Cook at center here and here. Neither depended particularly on his block, but you get a good sense of how he was initially getting half beaten but then recovering with his strength to just about do enough to prevent his man from completely blowing up the play.

Observations

Based on all the footage I watched, here was my take on what Cook brings to the table, divided into categories:

Usage - Cook can play guard, but the Redskins felt he was better at center, which is why they moved Montgomery when Lichtensteiger went down. As noted, he played one snap at guard in 2011, but otherwise has just played center.

Athletic Ability – Cook’s athletic numbers are not very impressive and he doesn’t look like a natural athlete out there, but he can apparently dunk a basketball two-handed, which is no mean feat for a 320-pounder, even if they are 6-6. I’d say his agility and balance lets him down more than a lack of athleticism. He often ended up on the floor.

Run Blocking - I managed to last until now without mentioning pad level, which was the first thing that entered my head when the Jets signed a 6-6 lineman. Sure enough, Cook himself recognizes the importance of being able to gain the leverage advantage:

“I know I have to be low,” he said (in the WaPo article linked above). “The D-linemen and the nose guards I’ll be going up against, they definitely have an advantage of getting under me.”

This was never more apparent than in the last game, where he clearly lost the initial leverage advantage, but tried to regain it by lowering his head, but his man anticipated that and was able to peel off his block to get in on the tackle. So, this is an area where he knows he must improve (and has presumably spent the last year working on).

A common theme was Cook getting driven back into the backfield and allowing penetration. (Interesting side note: You may recall from my Willie Colon BGA that the main thing to have impressed me about his play at guard was that he hardly ever allowed any penetration – in a much, much bigger sample size). If he can improve his pad level and technique, then that will remove most of the negatives from his game. While he likely graded out negatively as a run blocker in virtually all of the games I watched, there were some impressive positive blocks too, so he has the potential to be a good run blocker if he can improve his consistency.

Pass Protection – Cook definitely looked more comfortable in the 2012 preseason games than he did in regular season action. However, it’s difficult to know how much of that is attributable to the fact he’s not facing starters. He doesn’t really look comfortable at all when back-pedaling and can probably make some improvements to his technique there that will help him. His instincts were generally pretty good when operating as the spare man versus a conventional four-man rush and he fared better against the bullrush as time went on.

Attitude – Other than when he punched the turf in frustration, there wasn’t too much in the way of demonstrative behavior from Cook, although he did display a nasty streak when he aggressively threw a guy on the floor at the end of a play. Here is a really nice article, well worth reading, that gives some insight into his character.

Scheme familiarity – The Redskins operate a zone blocking system, so he should be well-versed in the stretch/zone running plays expected to be a staple of this year’s offense. They also installed the pistol last year, so he might have the leg-up on some of the team in that regard, if Bassett’s sleuthing was correct and this is something the Jets will install.

Conclusions

Obviously Cook will be a long shot to make the roster, but it’s nice to have someone in the fold with real NFL experience, especially with Freeman’s prognosis not yet known. The Jets were using Stephen Peterman there at practice yesterday and I believe Colon can also play the position in a pinch, so the Jets have a plan in place in the event of a short-term Nick Mangold injury, but need to ensure they have more options than just Caleb Schlauderaff just in case someone is needed for more extended work.

In comparison with Colin Baxter, Cook was much better in the regular season games, so he’s a step up in that regard. It’s also useful to compare their preseason performance, since they’d both have been going against backups. Baxter didn’t do a bad job overall, but was completely dominated by a couple of NFL-level players (notably DeMarcus Dobbs) so while Cook’s consistency perhaps wasn’t as good, he more capable of holding his own at the top level.

Cook did show promise at times, although it was readily apparent that he had plenty of room for improvement. I always like to see players making adjustments and improving at their area of weakness and the fact he was able to show signs of this gives some hope that he can continue to improve. While he struggled for the most part, his regular season experience is going to come in handy if he ends up on a roster and gets called into action again.