Cook flashes receiving prowess in Vikings preseason win
By Chris Tomasson
St. Paul Pioneer Press
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — As Dalvin Cook conducted an interview following Thursday night’s preseason opener at Buffalo, a Vikings teammate walked by and said, “Happy birthday, rook.”
The rookie running back didn’t put up gaudy running numbers in his NFL debut Aug. 10 — 13 yards on five rushes on his 22nd birthday — but he was pleased with the 17-10 victory and how he caught the ball.
He finished with four receptions for 30 yards, and looked good latching onto screen passes from Sam Bradford.
“It’s something I rely on in my game, just being versatile, going out there and catching the ball,” the former Florida State star said. “They split me out wide. They … released me out of the backfield. Whatever it is, I’ve got to help my team get wins. That’s what they brought me in for, so I’ve got to utilize my talent.”
Coach Mike Zimmer said before the game that Minnesota’s screen passes in recent years have been “awful.” That’s one reason why the Vikings were so enamored with Cook, whom they were happy to grab in the draft when he slipped into the second round.
Departed running back Adrian Peterson was a hall of fame ball-carrier but not much of a receiver. Cook could develop into the type of three-down back the Vikings would relish as his replacement.
“It’s been tremendous throughout (training) camp, and I think it’s something that we noticed pretty early on during (spring drills),” Bradford said of Cook’s pass-catching ability. “He continued to show it throughout the camp, and I think he’s going to be a valuable asset, not only in the run game, but I think we’re going to be able to utilize him in the pass game.”
Cook wasn’t a top-notch receiver when he arrived at Florida State, but he improved steadily. He caught 22 passes for 203 yards in 2014, 24 for 244 in 2015 and 33 for 488 last season.
“As my career went on at Florida State, I caught more balls, and people started to realize it,” Cook said.
Cook is the leading candidate to take over as the starter for Peterson, who wasn’t brought back as a free agent and signed with New Orleans. Cook eventually will get competition from Latavius Murray, a free-agent signee who practiced for the first time last Monday after undergoing ankle surgery in March. Murray did not play Thursday.
While Cook’s receiving skills will help, he will need do better running the ball than he did Thursday. After a 6-yard gain on the first play of the game, he managed just seven yards on his next four carries.
“I’ve got some stuff to work on, but that’s part of the process,” said Cook, who rushed for 1,765 yards last season with the Seminoles.
Cook figures to get better with more reps and a healthy offensive line. Left tackle Riley Reiff, who returned to practice Monday after missing a week and a half with a back injury, didn’t play against the Bills.
“(Cook) did some good things, and I thought he ran behind his pads well for a first time out,” Zimmer said. “I’m sure he feels like he could have done more, and he will in the future.”
Zimmer liked how Cook looked on a screen pass that he turned into a 9-yard game. However, guard Alex Boone was called for holding on the play. Cook was credited with a 7-yard catch, and then the ball was pushed back 10 yards.
Cook also had catches that covered nine, eight and six yards.
“Dalvin Cook is a really good receiver out of the backfield,” rookie receiver Rodney Adams said. “I mean, he can do it all. He’s an all-purpose back.”