Running back Dalvin Cook returned to practice Wednesday, setting up a possible showdown of top NFL backfields on Sunday when the Vikings host the Browns.

Cook was noncommittal when asked Wednesday whether he'd return against Cleveland, but that was before he tested his sprained right ankle as a limited participant in practice. Cook was unable to practice last week, and didn't even get as far as testing his ankle in pregame warmups before sitting out.

Guiding his return is whether he moves like the same elusive back that racked up 252 yards from scrimmage in the first two games.

"Guys are flying around and doing all types of stuff, and my game is to go be explosive," Cook said. "I can't be out there if I'm not explosive or not able to help my team win a football game. I'd rather the next guy behind me come in and do an extremely good job and step up."

Cook's backup, Alexander Mattison, did his best impression of the Vikings star with 171 yards from scrimmage on 32 touches against the Seahawks. That builds confidence among coaches to lean on Mattison again, but it might not be required if Cook's ankle allows him to come back.

"Attacking my rehab every day real hard," Cook said. "I'm extremely confident in what we've got going on in the training room and what they're doing to get me back on the field. I'm extremely confident. We'll see how this week plays out and how I respond."

Darrisaw ramps up practice work

The Vikings rested left tackle Rashod Hill and a few other veterans on the same day that first-round rookie Christian Darrisaw was a full participant for the first time since he was drafted 23rd overall. Darrisaw ramped up his 11-on-11 work, presumably as the first-team left tackle, after he was limited in team reps last week. He took just three at a time, according to Zimmer.

Zimmer has said it would be a "long process" for Darrisaw to start. He's recovering from a second surgery on Aug. 12 to repair a lingering core muscle injury that was originally operated on in January.

Tight end Tyler Conklin (elbow/glute) and receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette (toe) didn't practice. Linebacker Anthony Barr is still practicing, but he remains limited by a knee injury. Safety Xavier Woods (hamstring), linebacker Eric Kendricks (hip), and cornerbacks Kris Boyd (hamstring) and Harrison Hand (hamstring) were also limited.

Cornerback Mackensie Alexander missed practice for a personal reason. Three other veterans had rest days: receiver Adam Thielen, safety Harrison Smith and cornerback Patrick Peterson.

A freight train from Cleveland

The Browns offense runs through Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, perhaps the NFL's best running back tandem. They've got the attention of Vikings nose tackle Michael Pierce, who said Cleveland's second-ranked run game works particularly well because of how those talented backs set up blocks for what is already a strong offensive line, featuring two top-10 draft picks in tackles Jack Conklin and Jedrick Wills.

"They're very physical, big guys," the 340-pound Pierce said. "But those backs do a good job of keeping D-linemen on those blocks, as well. That's something we don't understate, especially me at nose guard."

"Anytime you have those guys that can keep linemen on blocks and then explode through different holes and see things and cut back, it's big time," Pierce added. "They're profiting from it."

'Figuring out the pitfalls'

Having spent two of his 40 seasons as a football coach with the Cleveland Browns, assistant head coach Andre Patterson has a particular appreciation for how former coworker Kevin Stefanski has turned around a lowly franchise. The Browns hadn't had a winning season since 2007 before they went 11-5 under Stefanski last season, an effort that earned him AP NFL Coach of the Year.

"It's a different deal there," said Patterson, who coached Browns defensive linemen in 2003 and 2004. "They've been down for a long time, and they have had a lot of good players. When you draft in the top five picks year after year after year, you've got great players on your team. And they still were struggling. So he's done a great job of figuring out the pitfalls there and what he needs to do to get that place to have success."


  • Running back Kene Nwangwu and receiver Dan Chisena returned to practice, starting a 21-day window before they must be activated from injured reserve. Nwangwu, a fourth-round draft pick, hyperextended his knee in the Aug. 21 exhibition against Indianapolis. Chisena's injury has been undisclosed. This season, there's no limit on how many players can return from I.R.
  • Browns rookie corner Greg Newsome II has been ruled out because of a calf injury suffered against the Bears, Stefanski told Cleveland reporters on Wednesday.