Tight end Cook close to return for Packers

Tom Silverstein
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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GREEN BAY – Jared Cook made no bones about it: Returning to the field this Sunday against his former team, the Tennessee Titans, would be something special.

Green Bay Packers tight end Jared Cook makes a reception for a first down before being tackled by Oakland Raiders defensive back Reggie Nelson during the 2016 preseason.

“Heck, yeah,” Cook said Thursday after taking part in a padded practice for the first time since Week 3. “Of course it would, man.

“That was the kick-start to my career. It would be awesome, but you also have got to be smart with the decisions that you make from here on out.”

Cook has missed five games over the six weeks he’s been out since suffering a high ankle sprain against the Detroit Lions Sept. 25 and the medical staff wants to make sure he’s all the way back before clearing him to play.

Last week, Cook was allowed to work a couple of simple drills in pads as part of his continuing rehab. This week, he was cleared to do all the individual drills and play with the scout team Wednesday and Thursday.

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Coach Mike McCarthy said it was Thursday’s practice, conducted in pads, that would probably determine whether Cook plays.

“I think the first thing for Jared is to get to the point where he's practicing and exercising the game plan,” McCarthy said.

Cook said he only worked with the offensive scout team, which runs Tennessee’s plays against the Packers defense, so that’s not exactly him exercising the game plan. But the Packers have another practice Saturday, and Cook is experienced enough to run the plays without a lot of practice work.

The first order of business is to see how his ankle responds to actual football plays against actual defenders.

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“It was kind of more like tempo – see how it feels, see how it goes, see how it is with contact, see how it is with blocking and torqueing and just moving around,” Cook said. “It’s different from when you rehabbing and you’re just getting the typical movements back down, but it’s a lot more difficult when you’re actually getting a reaction from the defense and getting used to those movements again.”

Asked how it went overall, Cook said, “Good. Real good.”

The Packers thought enough of the 6-5, 254-pound Cook to start him early in the season despite the fact he missed most of training camp recovering from off-season foot surgery (other leg). He didn’t have much of an impact the first two games, but looked to be a big part of the game plan against the Lions.

However, he caught just one pass for 15 yards before going down with the injury. For the season, he has just six catches for 53 yards.

“He was explosive, provided some playmaking abilities, so it’s good to get him back on the practice field and he’s coming along,” offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said. “(He’s) working on the fundamentals and getting back into the thing.”

Since Cook went out with the injury, the Packers offense has been a mess and teams have stifled the passing game with man-to-man coverage. Cook thinks he can help the offense out if opponents continue to play single coverage.

“I just think it should open things up a little bit more,” Cook said. “Teams have been playing us in a lot of man the past few games. Those are the fun games that you want to play in.

“You’re usually going to have a safety or a linebacker covering you so either you’ve got an ability to beat him one on one or you’ve got the ability to open somebody else up. “A lot of picks, a lot of rubs, a lot of just man-to-man routes, so you can kind of set up the route, however you want to get open.”

Cook, a third-round pick of the Titans in 2009, caught 131 passes for 1,717 yards and eight touchdowns in four seasons with Tennessee. He left in 2013 after signing a five-year, $35 million free-agent contract with the St. Louis Rams.

Three seasons later, the Rams let him go and the Packers signed him to a one-year, $3.75 million contract. He’ll be headed back to where his career got started, but whether he’s in uniform will be somebody else’s decision.

“I have no idea,” Cook said.

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