The NFL world is again swirling around Dalvin Cook. After teams shied away from using a first-round pick on the dynamic runner because of off-field concerns, Cook’s 288 rushing yards in three games last season ranked second in the league.
Then it all came to a halt on Oct. 1. A torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee meant any anointing of Cook as one of the NFL’s top running backs would have to wait.
Cook’s time is again soon approaching. The Vikings are easing him back into training camp. He has flashed his previous elusiveness in limited 11-on-11 drills without a knee brace — which was his choice — giving coaches, teammates and observers a glimpse into his potential for 2018.
The Star Tribune talked to Cook about his offseason, recovery and public perception. Some answers were edited for length.
Q What’d you do with your offseason?
A Spent it in Fort Lauderdale, just rehabbing and just getting ready for camp, really. Just getting more comfortable outside of the brace. That was it.
Q How do you take your mind off football?
A Family. We’re real family-oriented. We do a lot of stuff. I had a wedding this offseason. My oldest brother just got married. I did that and really just spent time with the youth. I was the best man, too. I had to give a speech. [Nervous?] I wasn’t nervous, because I knew it had to all come from the heart. Like, we had so many good memories. It just rolled off my head.
Q How do you stay busy around Miami?
A When we were back home, it was football season coming up. So the little league was practicing and stuff, so I go out there and work out so the kids can see me work out. Just so they can see my face. One of my best friends, he’s the head coach on the football team. I try to go back and give back. Try to give tips, because he thinks he’s a real offensive coordinator. I try to help him out, man. [What team?] He coaches for the Carol City Chiefs — youth football. They’re pretty good, man.
Q You’ve talked about your decision not to wear a brace in practice or games. Why is that?
A Get it some air. I feel comfortable, I feel good. It was just a matter of time before it happened. It feels good. I’m ready to go.
Q Do you have scheduled days off in camp?
A It’s really going to be based off how I feel. I’m going to come out here, give 100 percent every day. Then how I feel, I’m going to be truthful with them. Just let them know how I feel so we can take this thing a day at a time so I can be ready for the season, because we have to build this thing up going into the season. I’m going to just be truthful with how my body is feeling, how my knee is feeling.
Q Are you on schedule with what you expected?
A You know, I don’t ever like to say ahead of schedule, because a lot of people put that word out there — ahead of schedule, ahead of schedule — but I truly feel like I’m ahead of schedule. I feel comfortable with where I am. Like I just feel like I took a step forward, you know?
Q Pads going on for Monday’s practice?
A Yeah, I’m ready to go. I’m ready to get some action. I don’t know how much they’re going to let me get. Whatever plan they got for me, just execute.
Q Looking to get that first hit out of the way?
A I’m ready to deliver it. That’s what I’m ready to do. That’s my mind-set, man. I’m going to go out there and play and be me. I know my knee is fixed. I know I’m healed up. Put the time in, go out there and play.
Q Expect to play in the Aug. 11 preseason game in Denver, a day after your 23rd birthday?
A I hope so. It’s always a good birthday present to go run around and have fun, do what I love to do. That’s always a great birthday present.
Q What do you remember hearing about ACL injuries when you were younger?
A Everybody always ask me how my scar looks. I remember seeing older guys’ scars and they were always big and it just shows you how much technology has evolved nowadays. I’m just thankful for that. It is really, when I look at people’s scars I just be like I’m glad I don’t have that scar right there.
Q What was the most grueling part of your rehab?
A Really getting my range of motion back. That’s when you wake up every day and have to go in and get this range of motion back. You go to bed thinking about it. They have to push on your leg. They have to get it back. They have to break all the scar tissue. It’s something I don’t wish on nobody.
Q Talk to any guys who have been through this?
A I talked to [ former Florida State and NFL back] Greg Jones. He had two knee surgeries. We was back at Florida State spring game and he was there. [Jones] just told me I’m in the right place, I’m in great hands. [Vikings running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu] is going to get me there. KP coached him, too. He was just telling me to get a plan and stick to it.
Q Pat Shurmur’s offense was a good fit for you. What has John DeFilippo brought to the offense?
A He’s brought a lot to the table. He brought an open scheme for all of us. … He just want to get the ball in the right person’s hands at the right time. So that’s his offense. Pat’s offense was great. Everybody excelled in that offense and we got our confidence going. It will roll right over into what Coach Flip has got going on.
Q You’ve gone a year in the NFL without public incident after your legal trouble early at Florida State. Is it important to you to change public perception?
A That’s the goal. To keep proving to my fans, first and foremost, that I’m the guy they want me to be. That I’m the guy that Rick Spielman drafted, Coach Zim drafted, that this is the right organization for me, you know? I’m going to do everything I can to get involved with the kids and with the fans. I love this place. I wouldn’t want to be nowhere else.