WATCH: Georgia tailback James Cook positioned for breakout if focus matches talent
ATHENS — Georgia football will have a new-look offense, and the vibe is that James Cook will often be seen with the ball in his hands.
Cook, an explosive junior out of Miami, was recently featured by the UGA football Twitter account in an introduction of sorts.
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound younger brother of NFL star Dalvin Cook has only done a handful of interviews, and there hasn’t been much to say about the scant role he has played backing up D’Andre Swift.
That figures to change this season as Cook has the skillset to thrive in Todd Monken’s Air Raid offense.
More importantly, Cook sounds to finally have the mindset needed, too.
“I just like being around my team, there’s a lot of laughs and joy,” Cook said in the video. “”But at the end of the day, I know we’ve got one goal when we step on the field, and that’s to work.”
— Georgia Football (@GeorgiaFootball) September 6, 2020
Time is running out on an offense that must replace two first-round offensive tackles, a three-year starting quarterback, the program’s all-time yards-per-carry leader, two of the top three receivers and two NFL tight ends.
The Bulldogs open at Arkansas on Sept. 26 before facing the physical gauntlet of Auburn (Oct. 3), Tennessee (Oct. 10), Alabama (Oct. 17) and Kentucky (Oct. 24).
“We’re taking it day by day, everyone is buying into the system, everybody is giving their all,” Cook said. “We’re just going to come together, and we’re just going to go.”
Georgia junior Zamir White is in line to start at tailback and get most of the carries, but this is an offensive scheme that by its very nature sprays the ball around.
No doubt, Monken explained the Air Raid version of “balance” is not the conventional run/pass mix ratio being close to 50-50, as much as it is distributing the ball to different players.
Kirby Smart has said he wants his playmakers to get the ball in space and make explosive plays, and Cook is the No. 1 weapon in terms of most dangerous Georgia players in the open field.
“He’s electric,” Smart said last fall, “he’s a little different than what we have, so we want to find ways to get him the ball.”
Smart indicated Cook was among the hardest workers in winter conditioning after a traffic stop last December landed him in the doghouse.
“James Cook, 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 during the winter conditioning drills.
“He and Zamir (are) really challenging each other and competing really hard. Those guys can continue to grow.”
Veteran defensive lineman Julian Rochester, who returns for his fifth season after a redshirt 2019 campaign, offered a similar perspective on Cook last season.
“It just changes the game, it changes the pace,” Rochester said. “I think when you look at him, he looks a lot faster than all those boys and moves a lot quicker, and it’s a different type of style that we haven’t seen yet.”
Much of the focus at Georgia has centered around the quarterbacks. Air Raid veteran JT Daniels is splitting first-team reps with redshirt freshman D’Wan Mathis.
True freshman Carson Beck has a capable arm and is gaining confidence, while redshirt junior Stetson Bennett provides added depth and stability to the QB room.
The running backs haven’t gotten as much attention because UGA uses a committee approach with three or four backs getting carries each game.
The Georgia receivers are a committee, too, but beyond George Pickens and Kearis Jackson, none have stood out this fall.
Cook is expected to help in that area, too, as former coordinator James Coley had him working in the slot at times last season.
Cook has certainly benefitted from that experienced and figures to be a weapon in that regard whether he’s coming out of the backfield or lining up out wide.
Scott Cochran, the new special teams coach at Georgia, mentioned Cook and White last week when discussing the “toys” he has to work with on kick and punt teams.
If Cook has the sort of season envisioned, this could be his final campaign with the Bulldogs. Particularly if his focus can match his talents.
“The goal,” Cook said, “I”m trying to be the best person I can be and win a national championship for my team.”