DENVER – Jared Cook loved the Raiders game plan heading into Monday night’s season opener. Head coach Jon Gruden wanted to utilize Jared Cook’s rare combination of size and speed to exploit mismatches with L.A. Rams defenders.
Want to cover him with a linebacker? Cook’s gonna win that race. Want to cover him with a cornerback? Cook's superior size will win out. Even safeties struggle with the combination of size and speed that left Rams safety John Johnson to do most of the work against Cook. Gruden believed his man would dominate that battle and others when matched up in single coverage.
Gruden was certainly right. Cook had nine catches for 180 yards. That’s a franchise record for receiving yards by a tight end.
“I was excited about my role in the game plan, but you never expect to go for 180,” Cook said Friday. “It felt good to produce and get all those targets, but the stats don’t matter when you lose.”
Raiders coaches have said Jared Cook and running back Jalen Richard were primary targets against the Rams based upon matchups and areas of Rams defensive deficiencies. Other skill players will be featured in other games.
He was heavily featured in some contests last season, and was a relative nonfactor in others. Cook wants to consistently contribute to the passing game, and run roughshod over defenses if too much attention is paid to Amari Cooper or Jordy Nelson.
“That’s the goal, to find matchups you can exploit,” Cook said. “I feel comfortable with what I have been asked to do by the coaching staff.”
Gruden’s moving Cook around the formation, using him as a roving chess piece. He played 64 snaps against the Rams and, per analytics site Pro Football Focus, he spend 30 as an in-line tight end, 20 in the slot and 14 out wide as a receiver.
He’s fast enough to play a pure receiver position, tough enough to block for the run and pass.
“We can put him anywhere we want,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “The great thing about Jared is that he is so tough and physical that he can get in and block also. So, we are not one-dimensional when he is in the game. That’s a big point for us because if he’s in and every time it’s a pass that would be easy for coordinators. For him to be able to play tight end and then go play receiver in the slot or out wide is big time for us.”
Gruden can move him around, making it tough for opponents to cover him to their liking. The Broncos have made a point to slow him down during Sunday’s AFC West clash with the Silver and Black.
“He has size, he can run and he has great hands,” Denver defensive coordinator Joe Woods said. “He’s basically a receiver playing tight end. He’s hard to matchup – a linebacker, safety of a corner – because of all his attributes. We’re going to do a little bit of everything against him. Hopefully it’s successful.”
Cook would prefer it isn’t. He has enjoyed working with Gruden since the spring, and remains excited about his role in the offense. He believes steadily making a significant impact is possible working with Gruden’s creative offensive mind.
“I’ve been moved around a lot in my career,” Cook said. “It’s something we’ll continue to do here as we move forward. I’ll do anything to help the team win, but I love the role and the opportunities I have been given in this system.”