Phillip Cocu says Derby County duo Jason Knight and Morgan Whittaker’s characteristics, as well as their undoubted ability, has played a key role in the duo signing new long-term deals.
The Academy graduates last week penned new contracts with Derby, which will run until the summer of 2023.
The duo, who helped Derby’s Under-18s to make history by becoming National Champions last season, have impressed in making the step-up from the Rams’ Academy system.
Midfielder Knight, 18, has established himself in the starting line-up in recent weeks, while 19-year-old forward Whittaker has also been a consistent member of the Rams’ matchday squads.
They are two of as many as nine recent Academy graduates to have played first-team football for the Rams this season, while a number of up-and-coming youngsters have also been in-and-around the squad.
Knight and Whittaker are also two of four Academy products to have made their professional debuts for the Rams in the current campaign.
The pair featured in Friday’s 0-0 draw at Northampton Town in the Fourth Round of the Emirates FA Cup, alongside fellow Academy graduates Jayden Bogle, Max Bird and Louie Sibley.
Knight and Whittaker joined Derby’s first-team squad for pre-season training following Cocu’s appointment in July and the Rams’ boss says they have handled the transition well, both as players and characters.
Speaking to RamsTV, Cocu said: “Some players need some time to get used to the physicality of stepping up to the first-team and the fact they have less time to see solutions in training sessions.
“Other players are more of that player in their nature, so you see their style of play adapts very quickly in training and you see the potential.
“That is only the first step, to see the potential, as we also like to see a good character in the player.
“We don’t like players who are comfortable, we like players who try to get the best out of themselves and want to learn and push themselves every day. In that way they help the team to be better too.”
He added: “The young players such as Jason Knight and Morgan Whittaker have done that very well, they have the quality and are good characters so this combination is why as a club we have given them a contract for the longer term.”
Cocu says a key part of any young player’s development is the ability to take their work on the training ground into game situations.
While he has been impressed with the work of not only Knight and Whittaker, but also Derby’s other up-and-coming youngsters, the Derby boss says they still have plenty to learn.
He said: “Taking that work in training into a game is of course the most important part of development of the player. In the game they have to show that what they did in training sessions they can do in the game.
“I don’t think there is any doubt with Jason and Morgan to be honest. They have done very well in their games, but they still have a lot to learn.
“They have to develop to an even higher level and be more consistent but what we have seen so far is very positive.”
Knight and Whittaker are two of as many as nine recent Academy graduates to have played first-team football for the Rams this season, while a number of up-and-coming youngsters have also been in-and-around the squad.