Newly acquired wide receiver Brandin Cooks introduced as a Texan.

Texans WR Brandin Cooks coming in to help the team win, not replace Hopkins

For the third time in four years, an organization introduced Brandin Cooks as the newest member of their football family. This time around, his introduction was drastically different. Instead of dressing to impress in a room full of local reporters, Cooks casually dressed in the comfort of his own home, as the Houston Texans welcome their newly acquired wide receiver during a virtual press conference via Zoom on Thursday.

After spending the past two seasons as a member of the Los Angeles Rams, Cooks, 26, was traded to the Texans in early April in exchange for a second-round 2020 draft pick — used to select Van Jefferson, wideout from Florida.

"The way I look at it, I am wanted and valued at a high level," Cooks said. "To be honest, I am blessed to be able to play with so many different teams, quarterbacks and organizations. I don't think of it as a negative, and I am a guy who can adjust pretty quickly. Wherever I go, I am going to ball."

Ingraining himself into a new system is a challenge all too familiar for Cooks. But similar to his press conference, Cooks must try to get accustomed to his new teammates in Houston virtually amid in the midst of a global pandemic. With training facilities closed, Cooks has taken the initiative to work out at his home, leading by example that this is not the time to relax but to stay ready.

"The most important thing is, whenever we are able to go back, I tell the guys is just be in shape and not taking this time as a time to relax or to sit back," he said. "Just because you never know when we're able to get back out there as a team so you want to be ready."

Right off the bat, Cooks clarified that his main goal in Houston is to help the team win, and not the standpoint of replacing DeAndre Hopkins' on-field production. While playing alongside two other receivers who share similar skill sets (Will Fuller and Kenny Stills), leadership and the lessons he learned throughout his six-year pro career is what Cooks is hoping to bring to the locker room in Houston.

"I think from a bigger standpoint, just a leadership role, just the way that I go about the game and my process, just being a veteran voice in that room with the special guys that are all the way around," he said. "I've been blessed and fortunate to play with such special quarterbacks. I look forward to just sharing that knowledge that I've learned from them with guys in the locker room."

Originally drafted in the first round (No. 20 overall) by the New Orleans Saints in 2014, the prodigy out of Oregon State University has recorded 5,730 receiving yards and 34 touchdowns throughout his career. With the Texans, Cooks will be able to add Deshaun Watson's name to an impressive list of quarterbacks he has played alongside — which includes two Hall of Famers Drew Brees and Tom Brady, as well as the two-time Pro Bowler Jared Goff.

While trying to learn his new quarterback through film, what excites Cooks the most is the similar characteristics he sees in Watson when compared to Brees and Brady.

"He makes every single throw just like those guys, and just from the little bit that I'm gaining from him, his process and his hunger and his drive and dedication is there as well.," he said. "That's what I've learned from those guys and saw from them every single day. So, I look forward to getting with him in person and really see that come alive."

In a world that seems foreign, the one familiarity Cooks has as he joins the Texans is his relationship with Executive Vice President of Football Operations, Jack Easterby. Prior to his two-year stint with the Rams, Cooks played one season with the Patriots in 2017 and bonded with Easterby — who severed as the then-character and team development in New England.

"I can't say enough about a guy like Jack Easterby and what he's meant to me and my life just in that one year that I got to know him while I was in New England," he said. "He's a special human being not just for me, but for my family, and to be reunited is definitely a blessing."

After recording over 1,000 receiving yards for four straight seasons, 2019 marked the first time since his rookie year Cooks failed to achieve the feat. He appeared in 14 out of the possible 16 games and posted 583 yards on a career-low 42 receptions. Determined to put aside the disappointment from last season, Cooks says 2019 does not represent the player who he is.

"I think there were a lot of nuances that was going on last year, not just for me but from a team standpoint," Cooks said. "We had a lot going on and at the end of the day, I dealt with some things on the field, but that does not go to show what type of player I am, the production I've been putting in year in and year out since I've been in the league."

"That was just one of those off years, but it comes with the game. That definitely is not the trend that you should be looking for from me as a player." — Cooks

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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