EAGAN, Minn. -- The scar is still visible from up close, but there’s little else to remind Dalvin Cook or onlookers of the knee injury that ended his promising rookie season just as it was getting started last season.
Cook worked so that he could ditch the knee brace before training camp that he wore during the offseason program. The soon-to-be, 23-year-old running back has taken regular reps in practice since the Minnesota Vikings reconvened at their sterling new facility in Eagan.
Though he deflected a question about if he’s any faster now than before surgery, it would be hard to decipher which side is the truth. Cook has shown his quickness in practices and the ability to change directions on the surgically-repaired knee.
Next up is Monday afternoon when Minnesota has it’s first training camp practice in pads and Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said they won’t be holding back their prized back.
“He’s going to get a good dose today,” Zimmer said after morning walkthrough. “We’re going to monitor him a little bit. He needs to get banged around a little bit.”
Which is just the way Cook wants it.
Like Adrian Peterson before him – at least to this stage – Cook attacked his rehab and his work with head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman and the Vikings’ medical staff.
“I told myself, ‘I know the work I put in so I’m going to test it out.’” Cook said. “’I’m going to test it out before I get back to camp.’ So I tested it out and I felt comfortable with it, so I just went forward. I let Sug and the training staff know that I wasn’t going to be wearing it. They’re comfortable with it as long as I’m comfortable with it.”
The comparisons to Adrian Peterson, at least for now, will end there. After all, Peterson is the team’s all-time leading rusher and returned from his knee surgery with a 2,000-yard, MVP season. Cook is entering his second year in the league and still trying to prove himself after running for 354 yards and two touchdowns in four games last season.
He said he trusts his “brand new knee’ and said he was looking forward to putting the pads on.
“It’s going to be another milestone for me,” Cook said last week. “With this process, it’s all about milestones; just stacking up the days and just putting it all together leading up to Week 1. Once we put pads on that’s going to be another milestone for me. I can’t wait until we put them on.”
Cook said he doesn’t even think about the knee any longer and that he’s gotten stronger since last season, a credit to the full rehab and training he did for the knee.
“If you’re around that guy for two days, you can’t be surprised, because his work ethic, his mindset, it’s remarkable,” receiver Adam Thielen said. “Even when the injury first happened, just his mindset in the locker room and around the guys. He’s just an incredible person, and like I said you just hang around him for two days and you see that come out. Not surprised at all, and just so excited to have him on the field here competing again, because that’s what he loves to do.”
New offensive coordinator John DeFilippo is tasked with getting the most yards out of both of Cook’s knees. DeFilippo knows the speed Cook possesses, as well as the ability to catch passes. Another important factor, DeFilippo has seen pass protection from his second-year back.
“I think you obviously see the explosiveness,” DeFilippo said. “He got in to the blitz period (last week) and he was assignment perfect. I think that when you see a young player that understands protections the way he does at an early age, I think that’s really unique. Obviously, he has the pass catching ability that we’ve all seen, but a lot of times when you play that running back position I think pass protection sometimes gets overlooked.”
Being able to check off another milestone on Monday proves Cook has made his way back.
“Going through the whole process, it is mind testing,” Cook said. “It is going to test you a lot. It is going to make you question football. Once you get back in the groove of things and get back in the going of things, you get stronger as you go, and I can say that. I got stronger as I went and it’s transferring over to the football field. I just think it got me stronger and ready for what is about to come this season.
Latavius Murray will backup Cook this season and Murray got better down the stretch last season in his first year with the Vikings. Zimmer and the offensive staff also have to sort through a competition at running back behind Cook and Murray.
Holdover Mack Brown is competing with undrafted free agents Mike Boone and Roc Thomas. C.J. Ham is at fullback with undrafted free agent Johnny Stanton behind him.
“It just depends on, a little bit, of their skill set,” Zimmer said Monday. “Mike Boone is a little bit different skill set than Mack Brown. Can they catch the ball, can they block protections, what kind of runner are they? Then we try to fit it where it’s best with us. It’s nice having a change of pace back like you say or a 1 and 1A and a change of pace or third down back. It’s really about who the best guys are and how we can utilize them.”