After Rookie Minicamps, even though he didn’t participate, Jared Cook was a big talking point for Dan Campbell, Assistant Head Coach and Tight Ends Coach, and his media presser. Luke Johnson of The Times-Picayune shared some of his quotes in his Nola.com article. Probably the most exciting of all were his comments harkening back to a day where the Tight End was revolutionized in Louisiana.
“The base is already here, the foundation for that is already here because they had a guy like (Graham),” Campbell said. “Look, we’ve already got what we need, we can brush off some of the stuff we’ve done before without any problem.”
John Sigler of SaintsWire took it another step further in his article introducing the further wrinkles that New Orleans will present with the team’s growing list of playmakers. Be sure to look at both of these articles as that gives you an idea of the context behind the following exercise. Let’s take a look at some of the plays from Graham’s 2011 season that Saints fans might have either not seen recently, or haven’t seen executed quite as effectively since Graham was shipped off to Seattle in 2015. I chose 2011 because it was a wildly successful season for New Orleans compiling 7,474 total yards from scrimmage and is known as one of the franchise’s and NFL’s best offensive attacks ever. Seeing the way that that year could be replicated in 2019 is about as exciting as it gets with the plethora of weapons from which they can now choose.
The Seam Route
The was consistently one of Drew Brees’ favorite routes to throw to Jimmy Graham when he was a Saint. They’ve continued to work this into the offense since his trade, but never to the full-effect that we can see repeatedly over Graham’s 5-year tenure. The added threat of Marques Colston certainly helped this route excel as he could also take the opposite seam or clear out over the middle. Expect to see a lot more of this with Jared Cook and Michael Thomas. Ben Watson was easily the most reliable Tight End the Saints have had to run this route recently. But there’s no questioning that Cook’s athleticism, speed, and length will get Brees back to loving this throw.
The other advantage with this route is that a small modification can be used to shake things up. As the safety at the bottom of the screen began to bite on the corner route, Graham could have rounded out the top of the route and head over to the opposite back corner of the endzone to run an Over route, which we’ll talk about later. Graham almost does that, but Brees puts the ball where it needs to be as the safety recognized the impending throw.
Sean Payton loves his screen passes and they’ve invested some time into developing the TE screen even after Graham’s departure. The trouble is that the TE on the receiving end of this the last few years tends to be Josh Hill. They ran screens to Hill several times last season including both Eagles games and the season-closing Panthers game Week 17. Never entirely as effective as they were able to achieve with Graham. Cook and his speed should change that.
The added wrinkle of a play-action here makes it tempting to talk about the Alvin Kamara effect along with Cook’s, but I’m saving that for the final route concept that also brings in Michael Thomas. The other thing to remember here is that Taysom Hill also lined up at Tight End 62 times in 2019; his second-most played position behind Quarterback. (64 Snaps)
This is one of my favorite routes that has been absent from the Saints offense from the Tight End position since Graham’s departure. Fellow ASC Podcast Host Alec Salas would back me up on that. Cook lined up in the backfield pretty often earlier in his career but only did so once while in Oakland with John Gruden. While working with Sean Payton, expect that to add up a bit more. Something along Josh Hill’s 21 snaps from the backfield would make sense for Cook.
This route could be run effectively from the slot as well, where Cook lined up 211 times in 2019. Graham lined up in the slot 310 times in 2011.
Oh how the Saints have missed having that go-up-and-get-it minded Tight End. Thankfully they’ve been able to rely on the tandem of Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara inside the twenties. But now, with Jared Cook in the mix, you can expect to see some more lobs to a fade in the back of the endzone. There were many examples of this over Graham’s 2011, but this was my favorite for this exercise considering the pre-snap motion.
Jimmy took so many snaps out wide in 2011 that when he lined up in-line here it ended up being a false run signal. You can see the defense quickly regroup as best they could, but to no avail as the 6’7″ Graham was simply too much to handle. Cook shares a fair amount of time out wide and in-line so you can potentially create this same confusion with him. Especially because he’s a far more capable blocker than Graham was or is. While his 6’5″ frame might be a little below Graham’s stature, but his 41″ vertical tops Graham’s 38.5″.
Flood Concept w/ Kamara and Thomas
This might not be as recognizable as the above routes, but one that will continue to come in handy especially on 3rd and shorts as well as 2nd downs ahead of schedule. This one worked well on a 1st and 10 with a play action. Let’s take a deeper look at how this play from 2011 will translate in the Saints’ offense this season.
Now picture this concept with not only Jared Cook (yellow), but also Alvin Kamara in the backfield (green), and Michael Thomas on the left side (red). Just the opening look of this play gives the defense a lot to deal with. Firstly, Michael Thomas would have lined up in the slot here before the pre-snap motion brings the outside receiver (likely Smith in this case because of his blocking ability) inside. That already causes the defense to key in on him as he totaled the most slot receptions and yards for the Saints two seasons. After the motion, this play screams run, with both of the widest set receivers within the numbers. Now the defense must account for that before the snap as well with Kamara being just as dangerous on the ground as he is through the air.
Now, post-snap, the magic begins. Devery Henderson, playing the role of Michael Thomas runs a clear-out to pick up any lingering safeties. Pierre Thomas/Kamara squeaks out of the offensive line and runs a sneak route to the near sideline forcing the linebacker to play the flat. Meanwhile, Graham/Cook runs the previously mentioned deep over route to flood that left sideline.
Because the clear-out has done its job and the linebacker has bit on the sneak route in the flat, it’s all up to the corner to be responsible for the intermediate part of the field. In this case, because of the threat that Pierre Thomas presents, he plays down to the flat. Now for the finishing touch, the play action has caused the middle linebacker to hesitate toward the line, thus completely missing Graham as he crosses over into the intermediate left of the field where he is all by himself. With Kamara and Thomas, trying not to bite and key in too on them while also having to account for Jared Cook will create a unique challenge for opposing defenses. For proof of concept, let’s look at what Kamara forces defenses to do when he runs a route out of the backfield.
This is a combination of a Stop route by Kamara and a corner or 7 route by Dan Arnold. Watch the corner and linebacker both let Arnold off the line without any attention because of their focus on Kamara.
Allow your defense to be that distracted by one of Drew Brees’ options and he’s going to make you pay. Now, he’s potentially got three different elite-level targets at their position to choose from. The theme of the 2019 Saints very well may be “pick your poison” when it comes to this offensive arsenal.
The signing of Jared Cook was enough to compel the entire Who Dat Nation for the whole 12-day process it took to sign him. Now, wth Dan Campbell teasing the idea of dusting off the old Jimmy Graham plays, there’s even more excitement around his eventual opening performance in a Saints uniform.
Follow Ross on Twitter @RossJacksonASC