Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook wasn't completely recovered from a shoulder injury when the Spartans absorbed a 38-0 loss to Alabama in a College Football Playoff semifinal at the Cotton Bowl, and the injury impacted his decision not to participate in the Reese's Senior Bowl as well, the NFL draft prospect told Fox Sports.
Those assertions cast a new and somewhat contradictory light on the Cook narrative as he prepares to travel to the NFL Scouting Combine next week.
Cook suffered a sprain in his throwing shoulder Nov. 14 against Maryland, missed the Spartans' crucial win over Ohio State a week later, and played through the injury in subsequent wins over Penn State and Iowa in the Big Ten title game. Although he wore a shoulder brace in the game, both before and after the CFP loss to Alabama, Cook declared his shoulder completely healthy.
That wasn't true, he now admits.
"Obviously, I wasn't 100 percent playing against Penn State, Iowa and Alabama," Cook said.
Cook completed just 19 of 39 passes against the Crimson Tide and threw two interceptions, but had little help from his running game and pass protection. Changing the story on the health of his shoulder could draw more questions from NFL clubs at the combine in what already promises to be an intense interview session for Cook. Still, the likely answer is simple and plausible: it wouldn't have been smart to broadcast to college football's most fierce pass rush that he had a weak spot entering the Alabama game, and a full-honest answer about his shoulder at the Cotton Bowl could have been perceived as excuse-making.
As for the Senior Bowl, Cook did not mention anything about health concerns when he declined his invitation to the game, and his absence has been widely questioned, including by NFL Media analysts Mike Mayock and Daniel Jeremiah. Senior Bowl director Phil Savage announced to NFL coaches and scouts at the annual weigh-in that nine players had declined invitations for health reasons, and Cook was not among them.
Cook, however, indicated to Fox Sports that the shoulder was indeed a concern.
"... After the season, I talked to my agent Joel Segal and we felt like the best option was to go to California to start training and rehabbing, so that I'd be 100 percent for the combine and pro day and that stuff. I am a competitor, and any time I get a chance to compete against anyone, I want to take it. So (having to skip the Senior Bowl) did kinda sting, but we just did what my agent thought was the best option," Cook said.
While it might have made some sense to purport his shoulder to be fully healthy before the Cotton Bowl, it's difficult to imagine why he wouldn't have mentioned its continuing recovery to Senior Bowl officials.
It might have spared some criticism for a draft prospect who has already been criticized plenty.