Dalvin Cook carried the ball only twice in the preseason, but one of them was an 85-yard touchdown run. That shows why he is such an important part of the Vikings' running game.
Cook said that despite his limited playing time, he is ready to be the kind of back that can lead an offense going into Sunday's season opener against the Falcons at U.S. Bank Stadium.
"I push myself in practice every day," he said. "I know I am in shape, and I know I am in condition, however, there is nothing like being in game shape."
Cook told me during the offseason that his recovery from an ACL tear in Week 4 of his rookie season was one of the hardest thing he has done in his career.
"It's tough. It's definitely one of the worst injuries, and definitely something that I don't wish on nobody," he said. "The whole process is crazy, but it's a process you have to go through once you hurt your knee."
In his short first year, Cook was one of the best rookies in the league, rushing for 354 yards on 74 carries with two scores and catching 11 passes for 90 yards. But the recovery from his ACL tear lingered into 2018.
"[My career] didn't start how I wanted it to start, but it definitely motivated me more and made me humble and look at the game a little different," Cook said. "It didn't set me back, but I didn't accomplish what I wanted to accomplish my first two years. It's still a fresh start, new team and I'm ready to go to work."
Last season, Cook rushed for 615 yards and two touchdowns on 133 carries while catching 40 passes for 305 yards and another two scores. But he only had one game rushing over 100 yards — 136 yards in a 41-17 victory over the Dolphins in Week 15.
Cook said he will be 100% Sunday, and there's no doubt he can make a huge difference in the new-look Vikings offense.
"I love it, especially the coaches and the guys that we have got, the scheme we're running is perfect," Cook said. "We have the playmakers to make plays. We have the coaches to dial it up. Everything about the offense, I love it."
In the final five games last season, Cook was used more in the passing game than ever before.
Kirk Cousins targeted him 27 times and Cook came down with 21 receptions for 133 yards.
Cook said he likes what he saw from Cousins in training camp and the preseason and hopes to play a big role in the passing game.
"Kirk has been Kirk. We know what Kirk is good at and we're going to tap into what he's good at and go from there and see how things go," Cook said.
Does he care if he gets the ball more in the pass game or the run game?
"It really doesn't matter," he said. "I'm a running back. [I'm happy] as long as I get the ball in my hands."
When he was asked about the Vikings using more rollout passes with Cousins, Cook didn't want to give too much away.
"I don't want to give you the playbook, Sid, he is doing what he do," Cook said.
Looking for 1,000
Vikings running backs have hit the 1,000-yard mark only 19 times in franchise history, and not since 2015 with Adrian Peterson. Cook said that's a goal of his because it also would mean he's played a full season.
"I am going to play more games this year," he said. "With God's will, I'll be out there all 16 games and ready to ball out."
Are there parts of his game he's looking to improve?
"Just go be dominant," he said. "It's nothing spectacular or nothing out of the woodwork, we just have to go out and be dominant."
Does he see the Vikings posting a better record than last season (8-7-1)?
"Of course, that is our mind-set," he said. "Last year left a bad taste in our mouth, one game away from the playoffs. We are ready to [get over] that hump and make the fans proud and make the organization proud."
Challenge for Gophers
One of the biggest benefits from the Gophers opening their season last Thursday is that they will have had extra time to prepare for Fresno State on Saturday night, in what might be their most difficult road matchup of the season.
The Gophers are three-point favorites, but this will be a real test for P.J. Fleck and his team. How they perform against the Bulldogs should tell us if the Gophers are a sixth-place team in the Big Ten West, as some predict, or if they're a team that can compete for a Big Ten title, as many hoped heading into this season.
No doubt the way they performed against South Dakota State was a big disappointment. Nobody expected the defense to allow the visitors 367 total yards. Last season, the Gophers were able to hold Wisconsin, Northwestern, Purdue, Fresno State, Miami (Ohio), New Mexico State and Georgia Tech to lower yardage numbers.
Wisconsin gained 359 yards in their 37-15 loss to the Gophers and Georgia Tech was held to only 283 yards in the Gophers' 34-10 victory in the Quick Lane Bowl.
The Gophers have some familiarity with Fresno State, having defeated them 21-14 at TCF Bank Stadium last season. In that game the Gophers outgained the Bulldogs 307-299 and put together a game-winning, 10-play, 74-yard drive with just over three minutes to play to clinch the victory.
Everybody thought the return of running back Rodney Smith and safety Antoine Winfield Jr. from injuries would make a big difference for the Gophers, but it didn't against South Dakota State. If Jackrabbits quarterback J'Bore Gibbs didn't lose a fumble recovered by defensive end Winston DeLattiboudere with about eight minutes remaining, the Gophers would have lost.
• The Bears will face the Packers at Soldier Field on Thursday night to open the 100th NFL season. Typically the previous Super Bowl winner opens the following season, but the NFL made an exemption to go with the Bears and Packers because of their long rivalry.
• The Gophers' crowd of 49,112 for the South Dakota State game topped all of their 2018 home games. The closest in attendance was their game against Iowa, which drew 48,199. It was their largest crowd for a home opener since they drew 54,147 for a 23-17 loss to No. 2 TCU in 2015 under Jerry Kill.
• From 1992-2000 the Twins had seven hitters belt 20 home runs or more in a season. In 1993, Kent Hrbek hit 25, Kirby Puckett hit 22 and Dave Winfield hit 21. In 1994, Puckett hit 20. In 1995, Marty Cordova hit 24 and Puckett added 23. And in 1998, Matt Lawton hit 21. This season the Twins have eight hitters with 20 or more homers — Max Kepler (36), Nelson Cruz (35), Eddie Rosario (28), Miguel Sano (27), Mitch Garver (26), C.J. Cron (24), Jonathan Schoop (21) and Jorge Polanco (20).