Among defensive players, no one gets a better look at the entire offensive formation than safeties do. Whether they’re moving all over the field or staying deep to cover over the top, their responsibilities include reading an opponent’s formation both before and after the snap.
As we’ve seen with safeties such as Eric Berry and Tyrann Mathieu, leadership is essential. When the bullets are flying, safeties must play fast and make plays — but they must also communicate with their teammates.
Whether it’s offseason acquisition Justin Reid or fourth-year player Juan Thornhill, the 2022 Kansas City Chiefs will have new voices at the back end of the defense — but don’t count out second-round rookie Bryan Cook, who says leadership comes easily to him.
“I think it’s natural [for me],” Cook declared to reporters after Saturday’s first rookie and quarterbacks practice. “The biggest part for me as a person is seeing people do good. When I get someone in the right position, that makes me feel better — because not only did I help you, I helped myself too — and now I understand the bigger thing.”
As he starts to learn the Chiefs’ defense, Cook has an advantage: for two seasons, he was a cornerback at Howard University before moving to safety at the University of Cincinnati.
This positional versatility is something Cook shares with a rookie teammate: first-round cornerback Trent McDuffie. The two should eventually be key chess pieces for defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo — and at training camp, the development of that adaptability has already begun.
“The situation he came from — being a nickel to being a corner — I got to tell him ‘Hey, you’re not in there anymore. You’re over there’,” Cook said of his new teammate. “It keeps me on my toes, too; I can learn the whole defense as well and keep everybody in tune.
“I love that part about being a safety: making sure everyone is on the same page and making sure we’re all staying tight. Connecting and communicating is very key as far as defense.”
They’re just getting going with the on-field work, but the off-field communication between Cook and his teammates started when he first joined the team.
“Everything starts with relationships first,” said Cook. “So what you’re maybe lacking in a certain aspect, I can help in certain things. Everyone doesn’t reach the same way, so I might be able to reach someone differently than somebody else; that’s just knowing my teammate. The better I can learn my teammates, the better I can help them in situations on a Sunday, where we can all stay tight. That’s the biggest thing.”
We’re just beginning to learn what kind of player Cook will be — but his college tape clearly showed his willingness to hit. Both in name and in playing style, “strong safety” fits Cook like a glove. He forced a fumble on Saturday.
On defense, S Bryan Cook forced TE Matt Bushman to fumble shortly after he caught a pass from Mahomes. "We always harp on punching the ball out... saw an opportunity," he said.— Pete Sweeney (@pgsween) July 23, 2022
Cook added he wished he was able to pick it up but is happy to be practicing good habits.
“We always harp on punching the ball out as a defender,” Cook said of the play. “It was an opportunity to see a little pigskin, so I put my hand on the ball. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to pick it up — but it is what it is. [You should] practice good habits.”
The forced fumble didn’t happen at full speed — but Cook will be getting those kinds of opportunities this week, when the Chiefs begin padded practices.
“I’m very excited,” said Cook of the coming opportunities. “Some things are just innate in you. I think that’s a big thing since I was young. So I’m definitely excited about that. But my main focus right now is just learning the plays — because when the ball is snapped, I’m going to play how I play regardless.”
Still, he’s aware of that he’s moving to a different level of competition.
“It is a little different from college in the NFL: people out here driving a little different cars,” laughed Cook. “So I’ll make sure I’m smart with certain things — but I’m definitely excited for it.”
Highlight-reel tackles and takeaways will certainly get the fans’ attention. But Cook’s leadership skills will be more likely to get the attention of his teammates. As we’ve seen, it’s a foundational trait in every great safety.