Coming out of Michigan State, Connor Cook was considered one of the more pro-ready quarterbacks in the draft. He was a three-year starter at a division one program in a power five conference. And at 6-4, 222 pounds, he had the physical qualities as well.
It was other reasons that had him fall out of the top three rounds, where the Raiders traded up to pick 100 to get him.
He would come in competing for a backup spot behind Derek Carr and soon found himself taking a backseat to fourth year quarterback, Matt McGloin.
Each of their first 15 games, the Raiders would activate Carr and McGloin would be the primary backup. That was until last week when McGloin started for the injured Carr. That game had Cook activated for the first time.
“I was nervous last week just being activated,” said Cook candidly. “Being inactive and finally knowing that I was one play away, I was preparing like I was the guy. I was nervous playing in Denver just like I’ll have the nerves going into this one.”
Cook ended up coming in and playing the entire second half of that game because McGloin went out with a shoulder injury. In the game, Cook completed 14 of 21 passes for 150 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He was also sacked twice, fumbling both times.
Today Jack Del Rio announced Cook will start the team’s playoff opener in Houston on Saturday.
“We are gonna start Connor this weekend,” Del Rio announced Wednesday.”
“It’s really an easy option. He played pretty well when he went in and Matt [McGloin] is hurt. We’re hoping to get Matt healthy enough to be a backup. But right now that remains a question.”
Cook has been in high pressure situations at the college level which he hopes can help him to find his groove.
“Obviously playing at Michigan State, you play in some big time games there, you’re fortunate enough to do that, so I’m going to try and take away whatever I did there and put it to use on Saturday.”
‘Big time games’ for Cook include the Cotton Bowl following the 2014 season where the Spartans beat Baylor 42-41, a 16-13 win over Iowa in the 2015 B1G Championship where Cook was named MVP for the second time in three years, and a spot in the College Football Playoff where they were routed by Alabama, 38-0.
Interesting to note that Alabama was the third rated defense in the country that season and the Houston Texans have the NFL’s number one rated defense this season.
Having his first career NFL start come in a playoff game is a tall order of a rookie quarterback, though it may have been even tougher to have him starting early in the season when he’d only had the offseason and training camp under his belt. Now, even though he didn’t play, he’s gone through a season of preparing for opponents at the NFL level and with this offensive staff.
“I think just confidence.,” Cook said of his growth from the beginning of the season until now. “You come in as a rookie, you’re unsure of the offense, timing with the receivers, all that stuff, so now just having almost a full season under my belt, staying after, getting extra reps after practice, coming out before in pregame when I was inactive throwing with other receivers, just filling the timing, the route concepts and the knowledge of the offense. Just learning all that I’m more confident, more in control.”
Some of his confidence showed in the season finale with a few early completions, including a 32-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper. Del Rio saw the confidence in Cook he spoke of.
“The most impressive thing is when he went into a very difficult set of circumstances and I thought he handled himself extremely well. The poise was there, the moment didn’t look too big for him, and I thought he did a real nice job leading the team down and moving the ball.”
We all saw last week what this offense looks like without Derek Carr. And it’s not pretty. Del Rio told Cook the same thing he told McGloin: “Be yourself”. Which, really, at this point he has no other choice.
“Just ready,” Cook added. “Embrace this opportunity, give it everything I’ve got and have fun.”