Connor Cook is eager to get back to Indy. It’s the place where he led Michigan State to two Big Ten titles, but next week at the NFL Combine he’ll get a chance to compete with other quarterback prospects and let the NFL personnel folks get to know him better.
Cook told FOX Sports on Friday that he played the final three games of the 2015 season in a shoulder brace around his passing arm. He said the shoulder got back to 100 percent about two weeks ago.
"It’s been gradually getting better and better each week," Cook said. He relocated to San Diego about a month ago to train for the draft with George Whitfield and long-time NFL coach Jimmy Raye.
"I took it easy the first week or so (in California) just because that was my first throwing without the brace. I didn’t want to jump out going gangbusters and have any setbacks. I wanted to get a feel for throwing again without the brace because obviously that’s allowing my shoulder to have full range of motion."
Last month, Cook declined an opportunity to play in the Senior Bowl, which he said was due to trying to get his sprained shoulder healed up.
"Obviously, I wasn’t 100 percent playing against Penn State, Iowa and Alabama," Cook said. "After the season, I talked to my agent Joel Segal and we felt like the best option was to go to California to start training and rehabbing, so that I’d be 100 percent for the Combine and Pro Day and that stuff.
"I am a competitor, and any time I get a chance to compete against anyone, I want to take it. So (having to skip the Senior Bowl) did kinda sting, but we just did what my agent thought was the best option."
Cook sustained the shoulder injury Nov. 14 against Maryland. He said it didn’t affect his accuracy but it did hinder his velocity. The injury kept Cook out of MSU’s win at Ohio State. He returned a week later for a win against Penn State and then over No. 4 Iowa in the Big Ten title game, but the Spartans lost to Alabama 38-0 in the Playoff.
I’ve never been one to make an excuse for how I played. Everyone else is out there playing hurt as well.
Cook isn’t blaming the defeat on his shoulder. "We lost fair and square," he said. "I was out there giving it my 100 percent. I’ve never been one to make an excuse for how I played. Everyone else is out there playing hurt as well. We have linemen dinged up all year. They weren’t complaining or making any excuses, so I wasn’t going to either. It’s a game. You gotta play through it and keep on keeping on."
The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder from Ohio leaves Michigan State as the school’s all-time winningest quarterback, going 34-5 as a starter. He earned first team All-Big Ten honors in 2015 despite that injury and has a sterling 71-22 TD-INT ratio for his college career. Still, Cook knows when he gets back to Indy he will face some questions not only about his shoulder but also about his character. Some of it apparently stems from the fact that Cook was not one of the Spartans’ three captains this season, which has prompted some NFL scouts to wonder about his leadership skills. And, as the draft process has heated up, that has triggered more speculation from draft observers.
FOX Sports spoke to Michigan State’s All-American left tackle Jack Conklin about how accurate some of those perceptions are about Cook.
"I think it’s people reading him wrong," Conklin said. "I know (people) expect him to be captain, but with our team, we have 12 eagles that our team voted. There are 12 guys that are voted by the team, and then three guys from that are voted the captains."
Cook was one of those eagles, Conklin said, adding that the other nine eagles rotated as the fourth captain from week to week, so the QB did serve as a team captain for a couple of games. "I think it’s people trying to read into things that are not there. He’s been our starting quarterback for three years. He is a leader. You can’t be a starting quarterback in the Big Ten and have done so well — won a Rose Bowl and a Cotton Bowl and gone to the Playoffs and not have a quarterback that’s a leader."
Conklin suspects that it’s also because Cook doesn’t fit the Midwest persona. "There’s an expectation of what a Midwest, power-football team quarterback’s supposed to look like, and Connor doesn’t act like that. He’s gonna wear what he wants. He’s gonna look the way he does, but when it comes down to it, he is that blue-collar type of guy.
"He is the guy that does the right things. He’s not out getting arrested. He’s not getting bad grades. He’s the guy who does the right things. He does well in school. He makes good choices around the team. He’s going to go through these interviews and people aren’t going to find these reasons why not to like him."
Asked where he thinks the perceptions come from, Cook said: "I guess people see the amount of wins that we’ve had as a program and they look at a three-year starter and see he didn’t get named captain his senior year, so they automatically jumped to ‘Well, he had to do something. Maybe he got arrested or in trouble.’ Well, if that was really the case, people would know. If I violated team rules, people would know. Coach D (Mark Dantonio) tells it how it is. In the past when guys have gotten in trouble, Coach D has said why.
"Or some people think ‘Oh, Connor must not get along with his teammates,’ but that couldn’t be further from the truth. People can talk to the coaches, my teammates, my past teammates. Every one of them would say I was a team leader. I commanded respect every time I stepped inside that huddle. They respected me in the locker room. Talk to any of my teammates.
"My other thing is, how can you be that successful and win that many games as a team if the quarterback and his teammates aren’t getting along? I don’t think that’s possible. If you have a quarterback and his teammates that don’t get along, you’re probably not going to win a whole lot of games."
The three-time Academic All-Big Ten selection calls it "a big misconception. I just didn’t get voted captain, but that didn’t affect the way that I led. It didn’t affect the way I played or led as a sophomore or as a junior or this year. We won our conference this year. I’m just looking forward to the Combine to meet with these coaches and GMs, and show them who the real Connor Cook is."