January 6, 2017 / 11:42 PM / 7 months ago

Rookie quarterback Cook primed for playoff spotlight

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Dec 31, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Connor Cook in the 2015 CFP semifinal at the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium. Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

(Reuters) - Oakland Raiders' Connor Cook will command much of the spotlight this weekend when he becomes the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to make his first career start in the postseason.

Cook gets the starting nod as the team's third choice in a National Football League wild card clash with the Texans (9-7) in Houston on Saturday, following the absence through injury of Derek Carr and Matt McGloin.

Most valuable player (MVP) candidate Carr broke his leg two weeks ago while journeyman replacement McGloin injured his non-throwing shoulder last week.

While Cook is untested in the cauldron of the NFL, he is known for his strong throwing arm and his former coach at Michigan State, Mark Dantonio, predicts that he will comfortably handle the pressures of making his first league start in the playoffs.

"Connor has got a huge upside," Spartans coach Dantonio told NFL Network. "He's played on a big stage. He was the Rose Bowl MVP when he was a sophomore. He was the MVP in the Big 10 Championship Game, just things of that nature.

"He's been in the spotlight. I know it's an elevated level of play and it's all relative, but he's played on a big stage and he's had a lot of anxiety, big-game jitters, and things like that, and he's played very well in those games. That's going to serve him as well as anything as he takes this opportunity."

With his powerful arm at the ready, Cook has plenty of options with the biggest offensive line in the league at his disposal, and could throw to 1,000-yard receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree or hand off to dangerous running backs such as Latavius Murray and rookie DeAndre Washington.

"He prepares very well," Dantonio said of Cook. "He was very particular in terms of everything (at college level). He wanted to be right. Good at overcoming mistakes, that's as big as anything.

"He threw an interception and bounced back from that, and continued to play on through it. I don't think he's going to be intimidated by the scope of the game. That hasn't been a problem for him when he was here. I expect him to play very well."

Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in St. Augustine, Florida; Editing by Andrew Both

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