Michigan State Spartan QB Connor Cook Talks About His Maturation and His Team!
Spartan Nation: Last year you had to earn a job. This year seems more fun for you. Am I right?
Connor Cook: Yeah, I’m a lot more loose. That’s for sure. Last year was a competition and I was just so focused on me. I was only thinking about what could I do to get better, what could I do to win the job. But this is kinda different. I’m more focused on the team and what can I do to make this offense better, what can I do to make the team better. I’m just a lot more loose.
HONDO: Because you weren’t a starter last year it’s hard at the end of the season to just grow up and be a leader. You’re clearly that guy now. How is that leadership role different for you?
COOK: I don’t think it’s really different at all. I’ve always been the kind of guy where my play does the talking. I’ve never been a super rah-rah kind of guy. Having the season we had last year and the relationships I have with my teammates… A lot of the guys on offense are back and they know me in the locker room and outside of football. I’m real tight with all of them so I can really exert myself more as a leader and not feel different because I’m so close with all of them.
HONDO: How do you stay the same guy and stay so level?
COOK: I don’t know. I think it’s just that I’m so locked into the game. I think it’s different in practice. If I make a mistake in practice I think about it, but then in the game I’m just so focused on the game and it’s so key and so critical that I don’t wanna let my teammates down. I feel like if I focus on the negatives and I focus on the bad stuff, then I’m letting my teammates down. So you just gotta brush it off to the side, no matter if… Like in the Purdue game, I was bad pretty much the whole game and then kinda let them down in the last drive. But really, as a quarterback, you’re letting your teammates down and letting your team down if you’re just focusing on the negative and you’re just gonna hurt yourself.
HONDO: How are you better today than you were on January 1st?
COOK: I wouldn’t say I’m better. I gotta get back to how I was at the end of the season and stuff like that. I’m still kinda brushing off the rust a little bit. I’m not really where I wanna be at. It’s just a work in progress and I just gotta get 3% better every day, so I have like another 10 practices to go.
HONDO: Where do you want to be when the season starts different from where you were in the Rose Bowl?
COOK: To just throw a catchable ball every single time, to give my guys an opportunity to go up and get it, have more command in the huddle and just throw an accurate ball every single time.
HONDO: We’ve heard a lot of praise from Coach D about DeAnthony. What have you seen different in him this year than maybe a year ago?
COOK: I feel like he’s not thinking. Last year he would think all the time, doesn’t know where to line up, this and that. You can tell he’s been in the playbook the entire off-season, watching film on past guys and watching film on him and things he needs to work on. You just see a hungry guy, a guy who wants the ball; you wanna give him the ball… DeAnthony’s playing mistake-free football. He’s going out there and he’s having fun.
HONDO: What can he bring that maybe another guy doesn’t?
COOK: He’s just really shifty. His quickness I think is what sets him apart from other guys. He’s able to come out of breaks really fast, one-on-one routes he can make guys miss. If you get the ball to him in the open field, he can make guys miss. I think that’s what he brings to the table more than the other guys.
HONDO: Tight end…who’s sticking out to you, what have you seen, what do you like to see?
COOK: Really, all of them are really good. Paul Lang blasted Ezra Robinson today. He lowered the shoulder and just trucked him. You’ve got Josiah Price making plays, Jamal. Sokol’s looking really good. He should be in high school and he’s out here making plays. I think we’re really deep in the tight end spot to be really honest.
HONDO: We know that when Mark Dantonio’s not talking about you, there’s nothing going on. Every time he’s talked to us this year he’s mentioned Kodi Kieler. What is it about him?
COOK: Yeah, I think he’s just super athletic. He’s a freak is how I look at it. He’s 6’6”, 300-some lbs. You see him do conditioning drills and he’s running around like he’s a frickin’ running back. He’s super agile, super long, he’s got long arms, long legs, all that. He’s able to block guys and stay in front of them really good. So I think what sets him apart is just his athletic ability for being so large.
HONDO: You guys scratched a great itch in Michigan State Football. How do you not rest on that and exhale a little bit, especially with everything you went through a year ago?
COOK: I think the whole off-season gave us that opportunity to relish it, think about it and look back on it. The coaches have talked to us plenty of times; we’ve talked amongst ourselves plenty of times, to brush that all aside. That whole off-season was long enough to look back on our memories and stuff like that. To watch all the highlight tapes and see all the pictures and reminisce, that’s fine. But once we started spring ball, even when we started winter conditioning, we put all that aside and we’re like…you know what, if we keep looking back at it and thinking about it, it’s only going to hurt us. So I think if anything that all made us hungrier to come out here and work super hard and be ready for 2014.
Q: Do you miss the questions about the quarterback controversy?
COOK: Yeah, I do.
HONDO: Week 2 you have a game, that if you guys can win that on the road, you’re going to instantly be in national title contention talk. Do you like having that game early?
COOK: We’re really not talking about it now, but it’s something all of us really are excited for. Being able to play against Oregon, they’re a top ten team every single year. Going out and playing on the west coast, seeing their facilities, just being able to play against such a good team. Especially a great quarterback in Mariota, good defense and talented guys all over the place. But that’s gonna be a lot of fun. Especially if it’s gonna be a primetime. Is it a night game? I don’t even know.
HONDO: 3:30 here.
COOK: So it should be a good game and a lot of fun, but it’s gonna be a business trip.
HONDO: As you look at last year’s offense, what do you think you couldn’t do last year that you’d like to see from this group as you take off this year?
COOK: I feel like more deep threats. I feel like a lot of stuff we had last year was throwing underneath and mid-range balls. But I feel like our receivers, they’ve proven what they can do. Me, I gotta improve on my deep ball. I think if we can do that on a consistent basis then I think we’ll be very deadly on offense.
HONDO: The playbook’s gonna change a little bit. They’ve gotta have you run a little bit more. Are you looking forward doing that?
COOK: Yeah, I’m up for the challenge. Coach Warner and I sat down and we talked. I’m not trying to be a dual-threat guy, but if a play breaks down and guys aren’t open, I can just scramble and get 4 yards, 5 yards. If I can do that on more of a consistent basis…and obviously throwing some design runs in there…but not having to gain yards on a design run, if a play breaks down I can scramble and get it. I feel like if I can do that that will really take my game to the next level and separate me as a quarterback.
HONDO: This is the first spring where you know you’re the leader of the offense. Is there any way you’re handling that differently this spring?
COOK: Not really. Eh, actually maybe a little bit. Just being more vocal I’d say. Other than that, I’m just focusing on whatever I can do to help make this offense better. Compared to last year, the main difference I think is I was just so focused on me as a quarterback and winning the job. Now I can put my focus on the receivers and running backs and the offensive line and whatever I can do to make this a better offense and take it to the next level.
HONDO: Do you think that will take it off to a quicker start this season?
COOK: Yeah. I think that kinda showed where we’re at this year, in the first scrimmage we had. Last year in the first scrimmage we got our butts kicked by the defense. This is the first scrimmage in a long time, since I’ve been here, that the offense won the first scrimmage.
HONDO: Since Dantonio’s been here.
COOK: Yeah, it’s always been the defense always wins. Coach D is a defensive guy, kinda favors the defense, him favoring the defense and we still won. I think we’re a lot farther along than we were last year as an offense this spring. I just feel like we’ll continue to get better week by week. Going into fall camp, get better each and every week then. Kinda pick up right where we left off.
HONDO: Do you think it has anything to do with the physicality of this offensive line?
COOK: Yeah, Coach Warner always says…before every pre-game speech, before practice, whatever, before scrimmage…he always says it starts up front. It all starts with our offensive line. They set the tone. However tough, however mean, nasty they wanna play, that sets the tone for our offense and they give me time and stuff like that.
HONDO: Have you noticed anything different behind the offensive line at this point, than even at the end of last year? Do these guys do things differently?
COOK: Not really. I just think watching tape and stuff you just see how sound they all are, you know? Marcus Rush is an exceptional pass rusher. Shilique is a great pass rusher and every time they go up against Jack Conklin it’s like going up against the Great Wall of China or something. Jack Conklin’s having a great spring. It just feels like I have a lot more time this year than I did last year in the spring. Our receivers have an identity. Our offensive line has an identity. Our whole offense has an identity now. And that’s what we didn’t have last year.
HONDO: Coach Staten said he wants to establish brute force up front, to be punishers. Are you getting that yet?
COOK: Yeah, I think in our scrimmage you saw our offensive line get really physical. We had a screen to Jeremy Langford. Two guys were out on the screen…I think it was Jack and Travis that took out three guys, and Jeremy Langford was able to score a touchdown. You do see a little bit more aggressiveness in all the offensive linemen. I feel Connor Kruse is super physical too, him stepping in at guard and playing really nasty. I think that’s what you gotta do. If you’re playing in the trenches, if you’re playing football, you gotta play nasty. If you don’t and you play soft, you’re gonna get your butt kicked. I think if our offensive line continues to do that the sky’s the limit for them.
HONDO: What do you think of Demetrius Cooper? He’s an athletic freak.
COOK: Yeah, he’s just so raw. Having been in here for a whole year…he’s just really athletic, really long, kinda roams out there, does what he wants a little bit. The coaches don’t really like that, but… He’s just extremely athletic, like you said a freak. He just makes plays.