Mankato – Dalvin Cook took a handoff and ran into a human wall. He bounced backward, like a dirt bike equipped with a reverse gear, then executed a few steps that might land him on “Dancing With The Stars” before bursting into the secondary.
This occurred on the first day of full-squad training camp practice for the Vikings. The defenders were not tackling, but his deft footwork and bursts of speed made Cook the most intriguing player on the field.
I’ve been attending Vikings training camps since 1990. Most of the practices are so boring they make you crave the relative thrills of sixth-inning pitching changes ... unless there is a rare talent on the field.
Cook might qualify. As the Vikings spend their last training camp in Mankato, here are the 12 most entertaining players I’ve watched here:
12. Antoine Winfield
Seemingly too short and slight to play in the NFL, Winfield survived with intelligence and a work ethic that was on display in Mankato.
11. Joey Browner
Jerry Burns used to rave about Browner’s hands. He could reach out and grab a running back’s jersey, and the running back would stop moving, like a cartoon character suspended above a canyon floor.
10. Scott Studwell
Studwell liked to bleed all over his uniform to intimidate opponents. Or teammates. He also acted as a one-man police state.
One year a small, yappy receiver was showing off early in camp. During the first scrimmage, Studwell nodded to a coach, and the yappy receiver ran a shallow route over the middle. Studwell tackled, lifted and planted, and the receiver disappeared.
It was like watching Darth Vader play linebacker.
9. Randall McDaniel
It’s tough for a lineman to make this list, but seeing McDaniel pull and lead a sweep or sprint downfield on a screen was to ask why he didn’t play all of the positions.
8. John Randle
There was nothing worse for a Vikings offensive lineman than facing Randle’s power, speed, acrobatic moves and relentless energy on a hot day.
7. Daunte Culpepper
His career disappointed, but his talent was stunning.
6. Chad Greenway
As his friend Ben Leber says, Greenway was the master of strangely G-rated trash talk.
5. Robert Smith
It would be easy to pick Adrian Peterson, but his power didn’t often come into play during training camp. Smith glided like an Olympic sprinter finishing the 400-meter relay.
4. Percy Harvin
Even in a league filled with fast, strong players, it’s hard to think of a more impressive combination of speed and ferociousness in an offensive skill player of Harvin’s size.
He also offered drama, because you never knew whether he would be in the mood to practice.
3. Cris Carter
Carter arrived in Minnesota with a terrible reputation, in part because of his unwillingness to work hard with the Eagles.
The Vikings claimed him off waivers in September 1990. Midway through his first camp in Mankato, he was the most compelling figure on a team filled with veteran talent. One-handed catches, tightrope sideline catches, goal line leaps ... you knew that summer that Carter would become a star if he could live a clean life.
2. Brett Favre
Part of Favre’s appeal was the sideshow that followed him, and the angst of Packer fans, but as strictly a player he was fascinating. He could make throws others wouldn’t dare attempt. The ball sizzled in the air. The time elapsed between decision and release was microscopic. And he presided over camp with a blend of humor and charisma that made him impossible not to watch.
1. Randy Moss
As with Favre, there was the sideshow aspect of Moss’ career. He might say or do anything at any time. But even judged strictly as a player, Moss was captivating.
No receiver in NFL history has combined leaping ability, speed, agility and catching ability quite the way Moss did, and he threw in plenty of trash talk that fans could hear from the stands.
He was so spectacular he made the average training camp practice almost watchable.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MNSPN.com. Twitter: @SouhanStrib. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org