Just a day after the New York Jets shipped "Big Play Abe" Elam to the Cleveland Browns, they may have landed a potential replacement in rookie undrafted free agent Emanuel Cook.
Ironically, both the 27-year old Elam and the 21-year-old Cook grew up in Riviera Beach, Fla., and both are physical, sure tacklers who excel inside the box and are valuable special teams performers.
"When I was in college, some of my checks would go to his [Elam's] house," Cook told newyorkjets.com. "They would put the wrong address on it and he would bring it around the corner to me. He's a nice guy."
Despite receiving calls of interest from both the Super Bowl-champion Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens, Cook ultimately picked the Green & White after the draft and Elam played a part in his decision.
"He just told me to come in and work hard," said Cook, who led South Carolina in tackles in each of the past two seasons. "He told me I would have a good chance to play and he definitely had a big impact on my decision."
After the Jets matched the Browns' offer sheet for Elam, the 6'0", 207-pounder became the key piece in the draft-day deal that allowed the Jets to move up and select Mark Sanchez with the fifth overall selection. Browns head coach Eric Mangini, who spent the previous three years in the same capacity with the Green & White, thought very highly of Elam, especially after last year's career season.
But even before there was talk of any blockbuster trade, the Jets were doing their due diligence in the scouting process. When Cook worked out at South Carolina's pro day in late March, the Jets made a favorable impression on the talented defensive back.
"I talked to scouting coordinator Jay Mandolesi and he gave me a lot of good feedback," Cook said. "I felt like they wanted to take a chance on me, but I knew they had to pick up a couple of offensive players in the draft."
In addition to Mandolesi, the Jets had "Mr. 46" on hand in Columbia. Doug Plank, who is the Jets assistant defensive backs coach, also introduced himself to Cook.
"We sat down and talked and he told me about the 46 defense and the Ravens defense and how I could come over here and contribute right away," Cook said. "I felt like they were taking a real good look at me at my pro day and I really liked the interest."
Last season, Cook's 87 tackles paced the Gamecocks and he earned All-SEC second-team honors. Then the third-year starter declared his intention to go to the NFL following his junior campaign and his name was never called during the seven rounds on April 25-26. Initially, there was disappointment for Cook and his beloved mother, Paulette Griffin.
"She thought I was going to get drafted. I told her everything happens the way it's supposed to and it happened," he said. "She's happy now. She has her green and she's got all her Jets hats. She is real happy."
So why wasn't the 5'10", 214-pound Cook drafted? It's a legitimate question, but there isn't an easy answer. Cook was ruled academically ineligible for last year's Outback Bowl and there was also an earlier weapons charge that was dismissed. The Jets do their homework on prospects and Cook, who comes across as a shy and polite young man, wouldn't be here if they didn't think he could make a successful transition.
"I came from a real troubled neighborhood, a lot of violence and things I don't try to associate myself with," he says of Riviera Beach. "I didn't get into trouble at home — all of my trouble came at school. I guess me being associated with that place and me getting in trouble at school, some people are trying to make me seem like a bad person, but that's not the case. I always try to stay positive. I won a 'Character Counts' award in high school and I always try to be positive."
Cook, who had three career interceptions at South Carolina, realizes he's in a position to influence other youngsters. After earning a college scholarship, he now has an opportunity to join Elam in the NFL.
"I actually went back to my high school [Palm Beach Gardens] and talked to the players on the team because the last few years my high school kind of fell off," he said. "They had a bunch of players kicked off because of problems and everything. Just recently they got a new head coach and I went back and talked to the team, trying to motivate them to help each other stay out of trouble, try do things to help out the community and try to be a positive influence on each other."
Cook stood out for two reasons during the recent rookie minicamp — his fluorescent lime shoes and his ability to get in position to make a tackle on coverage units. But nobody had pads on and Cook figures to impress even more for special teams coach Mike Westhoff when the hitting picks up.
"He's a great coach. He's saying if you want to make it on this team, you have to make it through him," Cook said. "We watched special teams film today and saw the techniques and he definitely goes after them on special teams. I feel like I have a good chance on that, too."
Kerry Rhodes and Jim Leonhard are penciled in as safety starters and Eric Smith is in reserve, but with Elam gone, the Jets have a fourth spot wide open.
"I'm feeling great," Cook said. "I have a lot of things I can improve on, but I have a chance and I feel like I can better myself definitely."