The Vikings are getting closer to playing football. Training camp ramps up this week with the start of an eight-day strength and conditioning program that features some on-field work (rookies started earlier). We’ll preview the key points at each position until practices are scheduled to begin Aug. 12; full pads on Aug. 17.
Dalvin Cook; Alexander Mattison; Ameer Abdullah, Mike Boone, Tony Brooks-James
C.J. Ham, Jake Bargas
In: Bargas (undrafted)
The offense begins with Cook. Hence Dalvin’s desire to be paid commensurately. Sooner, not later. Of course, Cook also is a proven injury risk. And he’s a running back. Hence the Vikings’ concerns about a long-term commitment to a player with a potential short shelf life. After missing 17 of his first 32 NFL games, Cook missed only two last season. But his play was slowed by injury late in the regular season. Cook was at his Ferrari-showroom best in Week 10 when the Vikings won at Dallas in prime time. He had 33 touches for 183 yards and a touchdown. Injuries then limited him to an average of 15 touches for 60 yards in his last four regular-season games. Of course, Cook’s camp would point to what happened next. Healthy again, Cook had 31 touches for 130 yards and two touchdowns in the playoff upset at New Orleans. Mattison is one of the league’s better backups but not the receiver Cook is. Mattison averaged 4.6 yards on 100 carries. Cook averaged 4.5 on 250 carries. The underrated Boone averaged 5.6 on 49 carries. And Abdullah averaged 5.0 on 23 carries. Like the 49ers, the Vikings have a throwback love of fullbacks. They have a well-rounded one in Ham, which is why they gave him a three-year, $12 million extension.
The pecking order at the top is firmly established, but the touches could be more spread out during this oddball season. When healthy, Cook is one of the best backs in the league, if not the best. But Mattison, a bigger back with 22-year-old legs, could get more touches as the Vikings strive to keep Cook fresher longer. The only question is whether the Vikings decide to keep four running backs again this season.
Player to watch
Cook. If he doesn’t get his big payday, how will he react to the snub? Can he put business aside and be the offensive focal point for a team that has given its quarterback, Kirk Cousins, two windfall paydays in three years? If Cook does get his big payday, can he prove it was money well spent by staying hungry and, most importantly, healthy?
154 yards rushing. Cook’s career high – on only 20 carries (7.7) — came in Week 2 at Green Bay last year. His 191 yards from scrimmage ranks No. 2 in his career. The Vikings host the Packers in the season opener.