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James Cook doing well in search of a bounce-back year under Todd Monken
Perhaps no one fell victim to the offseason hype machine more than running back James Cook did in 2019.
With a new offensive coordinator in James Coley, who was a big reason Cook signed with the Bulldogs as a member of the 2018 class, and another year of gains in the Georgia strength and conditioning program, Cook seemed like a possible breakout candidate.
His speed and pass-catching ability should’ve made him an interesting option for the Georgia offense. In theory, the Bulldogs could use him out of the backfield as well as out wide. In the hands of a creative and capable play-caller, Cook could add another layer to the Georgia offense.
But that never materialized. After accumulating 170 rushing and receiving yards and two touchdowns in the first three games of the season, he finished with just 150 yards combined in the next 11 games.
Defenses knew to key on him when he entered the game, sticking with him when he went in motion on jet sweeps. Factor in a December arrest and exiting the Sugar Bowl with an injury — in a game Georgia was without Brian Herrien and D’Andre Swift was incredibly limited — and it could not have been a worse ending to Cook’s sophomore season.
Some would’ve pouted and thought about transferring out. But to this point in the offseason, Cook hasn’t done that.
He’s kept his head down, continue to improve his body and made an impression on Kirby Smart and the Georgia coach staff this offseason.
“I mean we had competition daily to see who was going to win individual battles, and James probably had the largest winning percentages,” Smart said of the player who stood out this offseason. “He and Zamir (white) really challenging each other, and competing really hard. Those guys can continue to grow.”
While Cook isn’t able to continue to make those gains on the Georgia practice field, he is getting some work in with a pretty talented player. Cook posted a picture of himself working out with Minnesota Vikings star Dalvin Cook, who also happens to be his older brother.
— James Cook (@thegreat__4) March 28, 2020
Dalvin’s success, he was a two-time All-American at Florida State and a Pro Bowler this past year for the Vikings, is another reason why James had such high expectations. But as is always the case with brothers, they are not the same person.
Cook now enters his junior season with an opportunity for greater playing time now that Swift and Herrien are off to the NFL. He’s not the only one looking to fill that void, as he’ll be working with White, Kenny McIntosh, Kendall Milton and Daijun Edwards.
As odd as it might sound now, Cook and White are the most experienced backs in the room, as they both enter their junior seasons. Neither has had the career either envisioned to this point, but it’s also encouraging that Smart mentioned both by name as players who have stood out this offseason.
White and Cook, in a sky-high scenario, would from the next thunder and lightning tandem at Georgia, following in the footsteps of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall and Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.
As for what that might look like in a Monken offense, he’s shown that he can work two running backs with complementary skills. This past season with the Browns, Monken had a hand in balancing Chubb and Kareem Hunt’s workload for the Browns as the offensive coordinator. In the eight games, Hunt was available, he finished with 37 catches for 285 yards, while also adding 43 carries for 179 yards. Chubb was the workhorse on the ground, finishing with 1,474 rushing yards over the course of 16 games.
As much as Cook improves on his own, it will also be on Monken to get the most of Cook this year. For as much weight and muscle he adds, he’s never going to be the physical runner that White will be. But Swift showed last year that over time, this is a skill that can be improved over time.
Where Cook could really distinguish himself is as a pass-catcher. If Monken is able to effectively incorporate into the passing game, it could also make life easier for Jamie Newman or whoever ends up being Georgia’s quarterback.
Writing all this isn’t an attempt to hype Cook once again or say that the player we saw in 2019 is the same one we’ll see in 2020. At this point, it’s hard to say when we’ll even have a 2020 season, much less what Cook will look like in the Georgia offense.
But it’s clear that Cook isn’t content to let what happened in 2019 define his entire Georgia career. He’s doing the best that he can to improve as a player for the Georgia football program.
More Georgia football stories from around DawgNation
- Bracket season: Sony Michel and D’Andre Swift square off for top spot in Kirby Smart bracket
- Georgia football podcast: Steve Spurrier strikes a hopeful tone about college football’s eventual return
- Quintin Somerville: A decision delay and how a top 70 recruit tackles COVID-19 quarantine
- WATCH: Breaking down Kirby Smart’s spring sports break briefing
- College coaches tab Kelee Ringo as top Georgia football incoming freshman
- Rising coaching star Dan Lanning becomes Georgia football’s highest-paid assistant
- Todd McShay has three Bulldogs in his latest 2020 NFL mock draft
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