The St. Louis Rams tight end’s first game with his new team last season — when he snagged seven passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns in a win against Arizona — earned him plenty of attention, none more than from opposing defenses.
Which is what caused Cook to chuckle at a query about that rousing debut on Tuesday.
"It was a headache, man," Cook told FOXSportsMidwest.com. "It (stunk), but that’s when opportunities come for other guys on this team. … They started playing a linebacker on me, man. Like the Falcons game, the very next game, they started putting a linebacker over me and putting a safety over top, so it was pretty much two guys covering me the whole game. So it was a little bit more difficult to get open."
Cook would never reach those numbers again last season. The 6-foot-5, 254-pounder never had more than five catches, 80 receiving yards or one touchdown in any of the Rams’ remaining 15 games.
Still, Cook led St. Louis with 51 receptions for 671 yards — a new Rams single-season record for tight ends — and five receiving touchdowns. That was 11 more catches than his next-closest teammate, Tavon Austin, and 102 more receiving yards than Chris Givens, who ranked second on the team in that department.
The added attention from opposing defenses was part of a season-long adjustment for Cook in his first year in St. Louis, which included losing his quarterback, Sam Bradford, to a season-ending knee injury and then seeing the offense switch to a more run-oriented attack.
"It was different," Cook said. "It’s not something that you want, having your starting quarterback go down. But those things happen and those are the punches you’ve gotta roll with. I feel like I did well. It could have been better. In my eyes I feel like you can always improve on some things and get better. I set a bar, and the records, but I have to set those bars even higher, I feel like, this year."
There’s been plenty of talk about the Rams not upgrading their receiving corps in the offseason, other than the addition of free agent Kenny Britt, but Cook’s development from his debut season going forward figures to be one of the keys to the St. Louis passing attack.
Cook said Tuesday that he now has a better grasp of the offense and what the coaches are trying to do. "Now it’s just kind of getting better at my position and focusing on the things that I can control and being a better leader for this team," Cook said.
But Cook, 27, who will be entering his sixth NFL season this fall, knows he has plenty of room for growth and improvement.
Cook set career highs in 2013 for receptions and receiving touchdowns, and his receiving yardage and average (13.2 yards per catch) were his second-highest totals in his first five seasons.
So now that he’s more settled in with his new team, new offense and new quarterback, Cook could put up better numbers in 2014.
"Now it’s just all about improving," he said. "So instead of 51 or 61 receptions, now it’s time to have 81, 91. Get my numbers up. Focus on the things I can control."