Vikings veterans report to Mankato for training camp on Wednesday with nearly the entire 90-man roster stomping on the practice fields this week. Head coach Mike Zimmer is seeking to rebound from a lackluster 8-8 campaign that was marred for many reasons, not the least of which was a dismal rushing attack.
Enter Dalvin Cook, the shifty stud running back who set records at Florida State. The Vikings have a couple of experienced runners in the backfield, but all eyes are on the second-round pick whom many considered one of the draft’s top talents. We caught up with Cook just before his first training camp practice to discuss what’s motivating him, how he is seeking to mature beyond a checkered background that contributed to his slide in the NFL draft, and running in Adrian Peterson’s shadow.
Q: You were a five-star recruit, ACC star and are now filling Adrian Peterson’s shoes. How have you handled pressure in your life?
Cook: “I just say you always stick to your roots — and that’s just being you and working hard. Because I just feel like if you take the hard work out, talent is by itself and you can’t win off just talent. So I always pride myself on working hard, shutting out what people say and doing stuff like that. Just work hard and you’ll get the outcome you want.”
Q: What motivates you?
Cook: “I just think it come from knowing my situation from back home. Knowing my family and everybody in my surrounding depend on me and look up to me as a figure of, ‘he does stuff the right way, he works hard.’ So I’ve always prided myself on that.”
Q: How’d you spend your past five weeks before camp?
Cook: “With my family. I had a wedding to go to. I just really, you know, was chilling around them a lot. Spent a lot of time with them. They knew football season was coming up so this was the time to spend together with my brothers and sisters.”
Q: Who got married?
Cook: “My auntie. It was great, man. I haven’t been to a wedding since I was really young, so I never knew. I knew, but I ain’t realize how much fun you can have at a wedding. It was fun, we had a blast.”
Q: In Miami?
Cook: “Yeah, I was in Miami but then we went back up to Mississippi because my brother plays basketball for Ole Miss. So he couldn’t come down for the fourth of July, so I went up there and spent the Fourth with him.”
Q: How has your inner circle evolved over time?
Cook: “I’ve always kept the same people in my circle. I got enough brothers and sisters, you know, so I’ve always kept them around me. I’ve got younger brothers I’m bringing up, trying to keep them in the same positive spotlight and positive mindset. They’ve been my circle.”
Q: Do you feel a responsibility to them?
Cook: “Definitely. My brother, I think he got the picture, so I can just kind of step back and let him figure things out like I did. But you know little kids and stuff like that, in the back of my head I know they look up to me so I’ve got to keep that positive spotlight.”
Q: Do you feel Adrian Peterson’s shadow here?
Cook: “Nah, people talk about it, but I don’t. When I went to Florida State, they tried to make me fill Devonta [Freeman’s] shoes. I just come in and be me. Eventually, my time will come. So I just come in, work hard, do everything the right way and keep my head down. As time passes, which it goes fast, my time will come, man. That light will shine on me.”
Q: How did you view all the talk about your off-field incidents leading up to the draft?
Cook: “I embraced it like I’m going to get my opportunity no matter what, whether I go first [round], second or third. I’m going to get my opportunity no matter what. I’m going to show an organization I can be that positive role model, that positive figure around an environment, around a community and around an organization. Be the person I was at Florida State. If you ask anybody at Florida State, I was a guy everybody looked up to, so you know as time goes I expect to be that guy here.”
Q: There were the three incidents with law enforcement as a freshman at Florida State. Assistant coaches reportedly felt you turned a corner afterward. Do you feel that way?
Cook: “I just think as the years passed, coach [Jimbo] Fisher leaned on me more and we communicated more. When you communicate with the head coach and the head guy, and he asks you to do a lot of things off the field and on the field — you kind of know in the back of your head, it’s time for you to grow up. It was just gaining that experience.”
Q: You go undrafted in the first round. Vikings GM Rick Spielman calls you before the second round the next morning. What did he want to know?
Cook: “He just wanted to know all the little things people was writing, just wanted to know little things about me. That’s all. He just wanted to know the little things. Can he trust me if he brings me in? So you know, yeah we talked and got familiar with each other and you know it went from there.”
Q: Did any other teams call you that morning?
Cook: “He was the first one. Actually he was the only one that morning. That was it. It was bright and early, it was probably about 9 or something. I was awake, anxious and ready for the day. I was actually out shopping for what I was going to wear for that day. I was out in the mall, he called me and I stepped out the store to talk to him for about 45 minutes. We got familiar with each other.”
Q: Coaches praise your vision on the field. Is that your strength?
Cook: “That’s what I pride my game on — with my eyes, putting my body in the right position. It starts with your eyes, man. Once you put your body in the right position, that’s when I let my talent take over. My speed, me just being athletic and versatile, so my eyes are the key to my game. I just think where I come from, you see a lot of stuff and you have to be aware of everything. That’s just being aware of my surroundings. That’s where I think my vision came from. It’s bigger than football.”
Q: You’ve said this Vikings run game is similar to what you’re accustomed to. How so?
Cook: “It’s real similar like running mid-zone, inside-zone. It’s just like, you know, it’s the same thing when I came into it. The speed is a little different. I just feel like coach Fisher got me ready for this system. It feels like the right fit for me, you know? Perfect fit. The system we’re running, it’s good.”
Q: Word is you’re a budding fisherman?
Cook: “Yeah I went fishing one time with Stacy [Coley], but he didn’t like it too much. I used to go fishing with my dad when I was younger. I went on my own like twice, went on a boat and went fishing. It was fun, man. Ease your mind. As I spend more time here, that will be one of the things I do. Just take a step back from football and go out there and ease my mind. You always got to step back from football and give it a break. This thing can be year-round for you if you let it.”
Q: Catch anything?
Cook: “Yeah, a northern pike. [Where at?] Lake Minnetonka.”
Q: What would a successful rookie season be for you?
Cook: “Establishing myself. Coming in, I just want to make the playoffs. That’s it starting off. I think if we get in the playoffs we have a big shot at winning the championship. That’s all I want to do. I just want to win championships and win games. I think once we do that, all the accolades for myself will add up. When I came into Florida State, I never set goals for myself. I always said just make it to the field, get on the field. Just help my team win football games. Once I do that, all the accolades will add up.”