ATHENS — Georgia fans never know where James Cook will line up from one snap to the next.
But they know when Cook touches the ball, he’s a threat to score from wherever he is at on the football field.
“He’s shifty, you think when you see the speed it might be hard for him to cut, but I’m telling you he’s running this way one second, and then the next second, he’s running the other way,” UGA linebacker Nate McBride said on Monday.
“It’s hard to get a read on him, especially at practice, so I know for other teams it’s hard to tackle him,” he said. “He’s so balanced. He’ll be sideways and still be running, I don’t understand it.”
Cook is on track for more than 1,000 all-purpose yards this season. The sophomore has rushed for 52 yards on five carries (10.4 avg.), caught 4 passes for 40 yards (10.0) and returned two kicks for 21 yards (20.5).
To boot, Cook plays quarterback in Georgia’s Wildcat Formation regularly in practice.
“He’s very versatile, he can lineup in the backfield, he can bounce outside, he can be a slot receiver, he can be a rocket guy, he can block,” Smart said. “James does a lot of good things. One of his best redeeming qualities is his toughness. He runs the ball tough and he does a good job. He is working to improve his ball security.”
Bulldogs senior safety J.R. Reed explained earlier this season how explosive Cook is with the ball in his hands.
“Cook is just a lot, he’s just so fast, man, he’s so fast, he’s hard to touch,” Reed said. “He has really good balance, it’s hard to get him out of bounds, he’ll cut those corners and there will be an inch on the sideline, and he’ll tightrope it all the way down it to the end zone.
“You have to be really, really tight on your angles with Cook, because he’ll either cut it back or he’ll turn it up on you, so you have to be smart and track that hip.”
Georgia defensive lineman David Marshall is one of the better run stoppers in the SEC. But even Marshall has had his hands full with Cook.
“He’s smooth and he’s got good balance,” Marshall said. “He knows how to read his blocks and find the hole. He knows how to play out in space.”
Smart said he knew he had something special in Cook last season.
“We knew this last year, he was one of our better players last year,” Smart said. “He was coming into his own and understanding of what kind of roles he had to do and understanding the offense. That’s a growth and maturity process which he’s been able to do.
“As he continues to be able to do more, we want to use him more.”