The St. Louis Rams were very aggressive in free agency and the draft, but the ball really started rolling when Jared “Cookie” Cook was signed on the cusp of spring. The Birmingham native was drafted in the third round of the 2009 NFL Draft (89th pick overall) by Jeff Fisher and the Tennessee Titans. In four seasons there, Cook had 131 receptions for 1,717 and eight touchdowns. A hybrid tight end who can block in-line with good production, he has aligned as a lead blocker from the fullback position. He’s also an athletic tight end tagged in formations from the slot, flex and outside-the-numbers alignments. Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s playbook will reveal further creative measures for Cook, taking advantage of any and all mismatches with this big target who can run.

In the Rams’ OTAs, “Cookie” has displayed excellent athletic ability and a very good route-running skill set, with soft and sure hands to catch outside his frame and acrobatic snatch production. But this is nothing new – he jumped off the film when I evaluated him at South Carolina. Despite starting only 15 games (he played in 36 total), Cook finished his career in Columbia with 73 receptions 1,107 yards and seven touchdowns, and was an early-out junior.

At the combine, Cookie blew away everybody with explosive athletic ability. He stood 6-4, weighed in at 245 pounds and ran the forty-yard dash in 4.49. With a 41-inch-vertical leap, standing broad jump of more than 10 feet and an impressive 23 reps on the bench press, to say nothing of his 35-inch arm length, he somehow lasted until the third round.

After the conclusion of the 2013 Super Bowl, Rams coaches and front-office executives spoke about weapons for quarterback Sam Bradford. They started that process by signing Cookie to a free-agent contract on March 12, when the Titans did not apply the franchise tag this talented football player. Tennessee primarily detached Cook from its standard formations, like a wide receiver, and Cook requested to be franchise-tagged as such. The Titans refused, making his services available to the other 31 teams.

Cook signed a five-year deal worth $35.1 million that could max out at $38 million if he reaches incentives and or escalators within the contract, in which $19 million is guaranteed. A true weapon is now in place for Bradford, someone capable of inflicting damage in the division down the seams and outside the numbers – or wherever the Rams align him. The Rams suddenly have dual tight end options with “Cookie” and Lance Kendricks, plus bona-fide receiving threats in receivers Chris Givens, Brian Quick, Austin Pettis and rookies Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.

News and Notes

Not only has Givens gotten bigger, he has maintained his elite speed. It was on full display today as he blew by several Rams defenders on a few deep-ball receptions from Bradford. All told, Givens has gained four pounds of muscle and truly reshaped his physique.

The lost man in the rubble of Rams running backs has emerged and is turning heads with his size, burst, acceleration and natural receiving skills. Terrance Ganaway is the only Rams RB with the size that teams covet, and his athletic ability is starting to shine with every carry. Keep an eye on this big boy in the battle for the RB slots on the 53-man roster.

Quick had a good day after missing a large chuck of practice time Thursday with tight hamstrings. He flashed good movement and snatched several balls out of the air with good body balance and control. This receiver competition is really starting to heat up.

It’s good to see defensive back Darian Stewart back in the mix for a job. One can’t help but watch his leadership, natural awareness and football instincts in space and close to the LOS. If Stewart can stay healthy, the back end of the Rams’ defense will be very good.

Highlights from Thursday and Friday’s practice sessions included viewing Bradford during his drill work. The QB pushed to perfect his timing and anticipation with receivers, running backs and tight ends. Offensive and defensive linemen also hit the bags and sleds, polishing play recognition and responsibility, while linebackers and defensive backs concentrated on zone drops, footwork (backpedaling and turns with burst) and, of course one-on-one drills.

The Rams came together to compete in seven-on-seven drills and team work, with the offense pitted against the defense in situational football (down and distance and red zone). Second-year kicker Greg Zuerlein and punter Johnny Hekker, both of whom were asked to grow up in a hurry as rookies, fine-tuned their techniques and craft on the far field.