The comparisons for Georgia sophomore running back James Cook are impressive.
Defensive lineman David Marshall compared Cook to his older brother Dalvin, a former All-American at Florida State and current starter for the Minnesota Vikings. Tight end Eli Wolf sees similarities between Cook and New Orleans Saints superstar Alvin Kamara, a Pro Bowl selection in 2018.
These comparisons, according to these players, center around his balance, vision and, as Wolf put it, his ability to “make avoiding tackles look easy.” It’s these qualities that are resulting in Cook having a greater role in Georgia’s offense so far in 2019.
In 2018 Cook had 49 total touches on offense, combining rushes and receptions, for 373 total yards and two touchdowns in 13 games played. Many of those carries, however, came in the late stages of blowouts.
This season, however, Cook has amassed nine touches for 92 yards and a touchdown in two games. Unlike last year, these touches have come early in contests while the outcome was still yet to be determined.
Receiver Tyler Simmons said he thinks getting Cook the ball plays into a greater offensive philosophy in place for the 2019 season.
“I think the emphasis for this year is just finding ways to accommodate all our players,” Simmons said. “Just looking at each guy’s skillset and figure out how you can get them the ball based on their skillset.”
Offensive coordinator James Coley mentioned a similar mindset when he met with the media on Aug. 5. He said that he and head coach Kirby Smart share the philosophy of “players, not plays.”
“I think that the philosophy that we have here at Georgia is that — who’s touching the ball and are they the guys are going to give us the biggest impact?” Coley said. “But you definitely have to play towards your strength.”
The strength of Georgia’s offense is undoubtedly the running backs and offensive line. However, there’s only one guy that can line up at running back, one player who can carry the ball on a particular play.
That’s where Cook’s versatility comes in.
In addition to regular handoffs, Cook has also been on the receiving end of screens and speed sweeps this season. He has also lined up at receiver, which allows him to get a running start to take a speed sweep handoff from quarterback Jake Fromm at full speed.
This versatility has multiple benefits. For one, it spreads the touches around and keeps the other running backs like D’Andre Swift and Brian Herrien fresh for later in the game.
For another, it gets Cook out in space easier and quicker. As linebacker Nate McBride will tell you, that’s not a pleasant sight for an opposing defense.
“You see the speed and it might be hard for him to cut, but I’m telling you, he’s running this way one second and the next second he’s running the other way,” McBride said. “He’s so balanced. He’ll be sideways and still be running. I don’t understand it.”
Last season, Cook wasn’t ready for this kind of role. Smart said he still had lots to learn about his place on the team and just the general understanding of the offense.
But now in his second full year in Athens, Cook is developing into an x-factor Georgia is preparing to unleash on the SEC.
“That’s a growth and maturity process which he’s been able to do,” Smart said. “As he continues to be able to do more, we want to use him more.”