ALAMEDA – Raiders quarterback Connor Cook wasn’t rattled when told he would take over Sunday’s regular-season finale for Matt McGloin. The fourth-round rookie from Michigan State knew he was a heartbeat from the presidency before playing Denver, his first game active as a professional.
Then Matt McGloin took an illegal hit to the neck and shoulder. Next thing he knew, Cook’s number was called. Cook didn’t have much time to process the action. He just warmed up and went to work.
“I was pretty calm, given the circumstances,” Cook said before Wednesday’s practice. “I know the offense well. I’ve been in the system almost a year now. It was actually fun to go out there and get some reps.”
That was Sunday, a spur-of-the-moment event where Cook didn’t have much time to ponder the moment.
He’ll have a stretch before becoming the first player to make his first NFL start in the playoffs. Quarterbacks coach Todd Downing told Cook today that he would start Saturday’s postseason showdown at Houston, a moment that came with little fanfare.
“I’m just ready,” Cook said. “I’m going to embrace it and give it everything I’ve got. I’m going to go out there and have fun.”
He won’t stay up bench-pressing the weight of the world. He got great sleep Tuesday night – the all signs pointed to Cook starting before the formal announcement – and plans to the rest of this week.
There will be nerves before Saturday’s game. Cook insists there will be no panic.
“You just go out there and play,” Cook said. “There are nerves at the beginning, but that goes away quickly. You get hit. You get knocked down, and all that other stuff kind of goes away. Playing at Michigan State, we played in some big-time games there. I’m going to try and take whatever I did there and put it to use out there on Saturday.”
Playing well in important college games should help steam rolling toward this big moment, but there’s a lot of question marks about what happens next.
“There’s a lot of unknown there,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said “We’ll get to watch it play out when we seem him play. Honestly, we haven’t seen him a lot. We saw him for half a game against Denver last week. It was a small sample size, but he was pretty good.
“We’re going to give him a chance to go be himself and play the game.”
Cook acknowledges that these past few weeks haven’t been normal. He went from the No. 3 to the No. 1 in a flash, thrust into a difficult spot. He has prepared as best he can without many practice reps, and is trying to make the best of the situation.
Confidence gives him calm, something coaches and teammates said he exuded during that Broncos game, where he took 32 snaps, threw a touchdown pass and an interception and also lost a fumble.
He was in command then. That’s something vital under stress, especially in times like this.
“He was really good out there,” receiver Amari Cooper said. “He was talking us up and making sure we stayed encouraged out there. I really like him.”
He doesn’t waste breath with cheerleading or emotional pleas. He wants the huddle focused on execution.
“I’m just going to go make plays for my teammates,” Cook said. “I’ve never been the rah-rah guy. I’m going to be vocal inside the huddle and on the sideline, but the focus is on making plays.”