Cook looks to el­e­vate Min­nesota’s of­fense

Packer Plus - - NEWS - Dave Camp­bell AP pro foot­ball writer

Ea­gan, Minn. — For Dalvin Cook and the Min­nesota Vik­ings, the fi­nal stage in the come­back has been com­pleted.

Eleven months af­ter re­con­struc­tive surgery on his left knee, Cook fin­ished a reg­u­lar-sea­son game with­out any set­backs. In case there were any ques­tions about whether the Vik­ings would seek to ease him back into ac­tion, well, he was on the field for 80 per­cent of the snaps in the sea­son opener.

“A lot of stuff to work on, a lot of stuff to get done in prac­tice, but it was def­i­nitely a good start,” said Cook, who had 16 car­ries for 40 yards and caught six passes for 55 yards in Min­nesota’s 24-16 vic­tory over San Fran­cisco and said he felt “great” af­ter­ward.

Drafted in the sec­ond round out of Florida State last year, Cook im­me­di­ately el­e­vated the of­fense with 444 to­tal yards and two touch­downs be­fore tear­ing his ACL in the fourth game of his rookie sea­son. The quin­tes­sen­tial mod­ern run­ning back who can con­trib­ute in the pass­ing game as ef­fec­tively as in the rush­ing at­tack, Cook’s abil­ity to turn short throws by Kirk Cousins into first downs and longer will be in­te­gral to the scheme un­der new of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor John DeFilippo.

“Any­time we can get him in space, I think that’s a good thing,” coach Mike Zim­mer said Mon­day.

Cook ap­peared ev­ery bit as ag­ile against the 49ers as he was be­fore his in­jury. On the first play of the sec­ond quar­ter, he showed a block be­fore re­leas­ing into a pat­tern to catch a short pass and beat the line­backer to the edge for 17 yards on third-and-3 dur­ing the first touch­down drive for the Vik­ings. Cook be­gan the next pos­ses­sion by mak­ing two de­fend­ers miss dur­ing a 15yard re­cep­tion that started in the flat at the line of scrim­mage.

“I just heard so many things about how dy­namic of a player he is, and un­til you re­ally get out here in a real game it’s hard to truly tell,” Cousins said. “I saw for the first time how spe­cial he is as a run­ning back.”

Even when he lost a fum­ble, Cook pro­duced a high­light clip. He pow­ered his way through six 49ers de­fend­ers on a ba­sic run up the mid­dle in the sec­ond quar­ter, be­fore a div­ing tackle by line­backer Fred Warner forced the ball out at the end of a 15-yard gain.

“Some­times there wasn’t any­thing there, but he ran hard,” Zim­mer said. “The one ball he fum­bled, that was go­ing to be a great run.”

Cook had his un­cle, An­thony Jones, on his mind dur­ing the game af­ter the Florida In­ter­na­tional run­ning back was wounded in a drive-by shoot­ing in Mi­ami on Thurs­day. Cook and Jones were raised to­gether by Cook’s grand­mother.

“Just go­ing out there, com­pet­ing, play­ing my heart out, that’s what he wanted,” Cook said.

The stur­di­ness of the of­fen­sive line will be crit­i­cal for Cook’s abil­ity to con­tinue to pro­duce the way the Vik­ings have en­vi­sioned. They had only seven healthy play­ers Sun­day, with cen­ter Pat Elflein and tackle/guard Aviante Collins in­ac­tive. Elflein is due back soon but wasn’t cleared yet for ac­tion fol­low­ing off­sea­son an­kle and shoul­der surg­eries. Collins in­jured his el­bow in prac­tice last week, and Zim­mer an­nounced Mon­day he will be out for the rest of the year.

GETTY IM­AGES

Min­nesota’s Dalvin Cook fum­bles the ball in a game against the San Fran­cisco 49ers.

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