Conklin defends Cook's leadership at combine

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Michigan State offensive lineman Jack Conklin speaks Wednesday at the NFL combine in Indianapolis.

Indianapolis — Former Michigan State tackle Jack Conklin has seen the stories, and quite frankly, he doesn’t get it.

Ever since his former teammate, quarterback Connor Cook, was not named a Spartans captain before the 2015 season, there have been whispers about Cook’s leadership ability, or lack thereof.

Those whispers have grown in recent weeks as NFL teams start to dissect players in advance of this spring’s draft, and they have been compounded by the fact Cook opted to skip the Senior Bowl.

“I think it’s a little bit overkill at this point,” Conklin said Wednesday at the NFL combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. “Connor was a leader on our team. There’s no doubt, if you talk to anybody in the Michigan State program, you’re gonna get the same answer.”

Cook, who is scheduled to meet the media on Thursday, left Michigan State as the program’s all-time winningest quarterback, leading the Spartans to a pair of wins in the Big Ten championship game and starting in two straight bowl victories before taking Michigan State to last season’s College Football Playoff.

Video: What does Connor Cook have to prove?

He also is Michigan State’s all-time leader in touchdown passes (71), passing yards (9,194) and total offense (9,403).

But the questions haven’t subsided, and the status of his injured shoulder has added another element. It kept him out of the win at Ohio State and he had less zip on his passes late in the season.

It all has led more questions as Cook appears to be projecting into the second round.

“The whole captain thing, to me it does matter,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said this week. “To some teams and GMs it doesn't matter that you're not a captain, but to other teams it does matter. Why didn't his teammates vote their best player and their quarterback to be their captain and their leader? That's a legitimate question.

“And the second question for me is why didn't he go to the Senior Bowl? If you were healthy, I would think you would have loved to step up to Carson Wentz every day and compete with him and show the world, ‘I'm the guy, not him. Who's this kid from North Dakota State, I'm the guy.’ I think he could have answered a bunch of those questions in Mobile rather than have to deal with them all this week.”

But Conklin, a projected first-round pick who started nearly every game of his career alongside Cook, expects this week for the quarterback.

“I think this is gonna be the stage for him to prove to people that he is a leader,” Conklin said, “and he can be that guy that leads a team at the games and make those throws in tight windows, and be that fourth-quarter guy that comes in and leads a team down the stretch. I think the combine is gonna be huge for him to prove to people that he is that player.”