With so much of Purple Nation fretting over Dalvin Cook's heavy workload the past six weeks, this question was offered up to the Vikings' busiest employee.

"How do those career-high 38 touches feel three days later?"

Cook smiled. It was Wednesday, the start of another week of practices for the NFL's leader in combined yards (1,564). It's a crucial week for a running back who has averaged 30.3 touches during a 5-1 run that's put the Vikings in playoff position.

"I feel great, actually," Cook said. "I'll probably need 38 more."

He was limited in two practices last week because of an ankle injury. But with backup Alexander Mattison out of Sunday's Jaguars game because of an appendectomy, Cook was at 30 touches when he was asked to carry the ball on the final eight plays to set up the game-winning field goal in overtime.

"I feel great to be honest, and I'm not pulling your coattails or nothing," he said. "I feel good. I've got a good system that I've got set up for me to get ready to go on Sundays. That starts right after the game.

"The clock starts to get my body ready to go for the next Sunday. I'm here to do whatever my team asks upon me. If it's 38, 40, 44, whatever it is, I'm willing to do it. I'm just going to keep fighting, keep chipping away with my teammates and having fun. That's what this thing is about. Let's have some fun on Sunday."

Touching the ball isn't the only responsibility in Cook's job description. His adept skills as a pass protector also will be needed against a blitz-heavy Buccaneers team on Sunday.

"It creates big plays," he said of his skills as a blocker. "It just shows the sacrifice for the team. That's my position. It's a get down and dirty position and that's what the running back position is. It requires you to do everything on the field, catch, run, block — everything. I think that's why the position is so unique."

No 'P-word' here

Bucs tight end Rob Gronkowski said Wednesday that coach Bruce Arians has been talking a lot about Tampa Bay's playoff positioning recently.

"Coach emphasizes it a lot," Gronkowski said. "These games are playoff games basically every single week now."

The Bucs (7-5) hold the sixth playoff seed. The Vikings (6-6) are one spot back, but coach Mike Zimmer has taken the opposite approach when it comes to mentioning the playoff picture to his team.

"Well, honestly we've had to fight back so hard from where we started out [1-5] to get in position to even mention the word playoffs," he said. "I've always kind of approached it like, 'You know what, let's go out and put all our emphasis on this one particular game, and let's count them all up at the end and see how that goes.'

"So for us, for a young football team like us, I don't think it's the way to go when we're talking about a stretch of four games when if we don't win a lot of these then it doesn't matter anyways."

Kendricks, Rudolph sidelined in practice

Eric Kendricks (calf), Kyle Rudolph (foot), Alexander Mattison (illness) and Irv Smith Jr. (back) did not practice Wednesday. Six other Vikings were on the injury report, five of them listed as being limited in practice, including starting offensive linemen Garrett Bradbury (abdomen), Riley Reiff (ankle) and Ezra Cleveland (ankle).

Jeff Gladney (calf) and D.J. Wonnum (ankle/back) also were limited. Brett Jones (neck) was on the injury report but was a full participant in practice.


• Zimmer, interrupting a reporter who started a question by saying Arians has been facing a lot of criticism: "Haven't we all?"

• Zimmer, after a long pause, on why he chose to release cornerback Holton Hill: "Just a decision."

• Zimmer on advice he'd give cornerback Kris Boyd: "The first one is don't get the penalty on special teams. Don't push a guy in the back. So that would be one."

• Boyd on why he's gotten that penalty in three straight games: "Just like my aggressive style of play. … Just me trying to make a block and make a play happen. But I got to be better with that."