Connor Cook: Comfort Food

Comfort food and football go together like apple pie and America. Mark Schofield takes this comparison to one of the quarterbacks in this year’s NFL Draft class: Connor Cook. Although not a standout with any one trait, Cook is solid across the board, not unlike your standby dish at your favorite restaurant. 

We all have them, the one entrée that we’re pulled towards at our favorite restaurant. The menu might be brimming with enticing options, but each time we go crawling back despite our vows to diversify our taste buds. Because we know what we will get, and what we will get is a good meal. While everything else on the menu might look better on paper, we know that this dish is going to deliver and make the bill worth paying.

That’s comfort food. It’s there for us when we need it. That’s Connor Cook.

It’s possible that Cook isn’t the best at anything in this draft class. He lacks the pure arm talent of Paxton Lynch or Carson Wentz. He is not as athletic as a Vernon Adams or a Cardale Jones. He doesn’t have the pocket presence of Jared Goff, or the accuracy of Cody Kessler. But Cook is solid in each of these areas, and sometimes being a known, solid commodity is a very good thing.

One of the local deli’s in my neighborhood, Parkway Deli, is a very popular Jewish deli. Given its proximity to two local synagogues, it is often crowded, but it is well worth the wait. The menu, as you can see, contains a wide array of options. I’ve tried a few different things in my many visits, but nine times out of ten I order the same thing: the deli twins. Two slider-sized sandwiches, one with pastrami, one with corned beef. It’s always been a good, solid option and, most importantly, it’s never steered me wrong.

In the 2014 Rose Bowl, the Michigan State Spartans face 3rd and 8 on the Stanford 25-yard line, tied with the Stanford Cardinal early in the fourth quarter. Cook stands in the shotgun and the Cardinal have their base 3-4 defense in the game. Watch as the quarterback delivers a strike on a backside post for a touchdown:

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Cook places this throw right between the cornerback and safety against the Spartan’s Cover 3 scheme. From this replay angle, you can see how the quarterback influences the free safety toward the opposite side of the field before coming back to throw the post route to the left:

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Another replay focuses on Cook’s helmet, and you can see how he uses his eyes to influence the free safety in the middle of the field, before immediately pivoting left and throwing the post route with zero hesitation:

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In the words of Captain John Patrick Mason, you must never hesitate (Link NSFW).

Another favorite spot of mine is La Tolteca, a regional Mexican spot I discovered during my time in Williamsburg, Virginia. I have spent many nights there when I should have been studying, and even now I’ll seek out other La Tolteca locations whenever possible. I mean, the presence of La Tolteca was a big selling point last spring when the family took a trip to Williamsburg, so I could check out Tre McBride’s pro day. And yet even during all my visits I usually order the same thing: carne asada. It’s never done me wrong, and it’s been there when I needed it.

Early in the season Michigan State hosted Oregon in a meeting between two teams then ranked in the top 10. The Spartans faced a 4th and 6 midway through the third quarter, with the score tied at 14. Cook stands in the shotgun and the offense has 11 personnel in the game. The Ducks have a 4-2-5 nickel defense, and the secondary shows Cover 2 before the snap:CookComfortStill4
Cook has a hitch/seam route on his left, with Aaron Burbridge (#16) in the slot running the seam route, while R.J. Shelton (#12) runs the hitch. Watch as Cook aggressively challenges the Cover 2 scheme with a precision throw:

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In his “Five Throws” series, Derrik Klassen picked this throw as one of the best made by the quarterback all season, and you can see why. Cook knows that he can attack the honey hole here with the seam route, but he needs to lead Burbridge away from the safety. He drops the throw in perfectly, away from the safety but over the top of the underneath defenders, allowing the Spartans to convert this critical 4th down. There when his team needs him.

One of the nice things about finding a spot with some good comfort food, and a dish that takes care of you again and again, is that the proprietors often do what they can to keep you coming back, to keep the chains moving so to speak. Whenever the family is in the mood for Greek food, we order from the Big Greek Cafe. I get the same thing nearly every time, the gyro platter. Since I’m ordering from there so much, they often throw in a side of gyro meat, and it basically gets me two meals for the price of one. You can’t beat that. Nothing like keeping the meal schedule moving.

Like converting a big third down, it keeps everyone on schedule.

In their season finale against Penn State, the Spartans needed a victory to secure a berth in the Big Ten Championship Game. They took command of the game with a touchdown drive on their opening possession of the second half, but needed this big 3rd down conversion to keep the drive alive:

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Michigan State has 11 personnel in the game, with a bunch to the right and Burbridge the single receiver split to the left. The Nittany Lions 4-2-5 nickel brings pressure here, while dropping into a Cover 3 scheme behind the blitz. Cook sees the pressure coming and stands tall before throwing a perfectly placed out route to Burbridge. The quarterback puts the throw right on the outside shoulder, away from the cornerback and in a perfect spot for his receiver. Cook also has enough zip on this throw to prevent the CB from making a play on the ball, and remember that this is in the wake of the time Cook missed with his right shoulder injury. A big throw in a critical spot, that keeps the schedule moving.

Sushi. It isn’t for everybody, and it wasn’t for me for the longest time. Buddies of mine in college would bring me to this great restaurant and try all sorts of things, while I’d be that guy ordering beef teriyaki. But later I discovered Tsunami (now part of Baan Thai), located in the Logan Circle neighborhood of DC, and my mind was changed by their spicy tuna roll, and their crunchy spicy shrimp and crab roll. Whenever I am in the area, I’ll pick up two of those for lunch. While some might consider sushi risky, as I did for the longest time, every time I stop in that risk is rewarded.

The stage? The 2016 Big Ten Championship Game. The situation? Michigan State trails by four with under six minutes to go, facing 3rd and 8 at midfield. Cook stands in the shotgun with 11 personnel on the field, with slot formation to each side. Iowa has their 2-3-6 dime package in the game and they use a radar alignment upfront with six defenders on the line of scrimmage and show Cover 2 man underneath in the secondary:CookComfortStill7

With the season on the line Cook, ailing shoulder and all, squeezes in this throw to Burbridge on a seam route from the slot:

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Risk, rewarded. The conversion keeps this epic, 22-play drive alive, culminating in the game-winning touchdown. Someone should write a book about that drive…

Cook isn’t flashy, and doesn’t explode off the tape with breath-taking traits. Both his experience and his ability to make plays in big situations and keep his team on schedule is an impressive trait on its own. With his body of work on tape you know exactly what you will get from him at the next level, there will be no surprises. Like comfort food, it’s what you’ve grown to enjoy each and every time, without anything unexpected. In a draft class filled with question marks at the quarterback spot, perhaps NFL coaches might opt for some comfort food of their own.

Follow @MarkSchofield on Twitter.  Buy his book, 17 Drives.  Check out his other work here, or  the Perils of Box Score Scouting and Corey Brown.

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All video and images courtesy of Draft Breakdown.

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