Ex-Spartan Connor Cook looks to build on NFL experience

Jesse O'Brien
Special to The Detroit News

Grand Rapids — If Spartan fans were missing Connor Cook this past season, they’ll be happy to know he hasn’t changed much after his first season in the NFL.

Last we heard from the Oakland Raiders quarterback, he had just taken a beating in his first NFL start, a 27-14 drubbing at the hands of the Houston Texans in the Wild Card round. Leading up to the game, Cook was the top story line — the first quarterback to ever start his first game in the playoffs, he made NFL history by taking his first snap.

But in the wake of a season-ending loss in which he threw three interceptions and one touchdown, Cook found no solace in inking his name in the history books

“I really don’t care about that, if I make history that way,” Cook said. “I’d rather go out there and just win. So the fact that we didn’t win and we have to move on and advance, that was kind of a negative in my eyes.”

Cook was one of five former Spartans on hand for the West Michigan Spartans’ annual Winter Tailgate alumni event at the JW Marriott in Grand Rapids. He was joined by Jack Allen, Donavon Clark, Kyler Elsworth and Darien Harris.

Cook called his first season in the NFL a “learning experience,” one in which he slipped to the fourth round in the draft and was inactive for the first 16 weeks of the regular season, relegated to third string and picking up practice reps wherever he could. Playing behind one-time MVP candidate Derek Carr and backup Matt McGloin, Cook said he generally would get about four to eight actual reps on the scout team in each practice.

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In fact, Cook’s one of the lucky ones — he said some third-stringers don’t get any repetitions during practice.

But when Cook stepped in against Denver when McGloin went down in the final game of the regular season — Carr suffered a broken leg one week earlier — it shouldn’t shock anyone in East Lansing that he wasn’t nervous to join the huddle, even if it took Cook by surprise.

“I was kind of taken aback and kind of a little shocked that I didn’t feel too nervous because when I went in against Denver I just felt ready, if anything,” Cook said. “I stepped in the huddle, thought I was confident and went out there and executed. And the same thing in Houston — just didn’t execute as well.”

Cook’s struggles in the wild card were perhaps magnified by the Raiders’ streaking success in the regular season — at 12-4, Oakland was seen as a Super Bowl contender prior to Carr’s injury. So when the rookie quarterback tossed into his first career start floundered against the league’s top-rated defense, he caught quite a bit of heat from analysts.

But most importantly to Cook, he came away from the experience with just that — experience.

“When you have experience like that, it’s hard to simulate anything like that,” Cook said. “So when you get that experience, you have an opportunity to go out there and play, I think that just gives you confidence, even if you come up short like we did.”

Jesse O’Brien is a freelance writer.