Coming off the best season of his career — and a year where he touched the ball more on a per-game basis than any player in Vikings history — Dalvin Cook said Wednesday he's looking for more.
Cook missed the Vikings' final game of the season when he left the NFL's COVID-19 testing protocol to return home to South Florida after the unexpected Dec. 29 death of his father, James. That meant he fell short of Adrian Peterson's single-season team record of 388 touches, but with 356 in 14 games, Cook became the first player in team history to average more than 25 touches per game.
He'd planned to take two or three weeks off after the season before beginning his offseason training, but said Wednesday he couldn't help but get back in the gym sooner.
"I've been in the gym every now and then," he said while meeting with reporters to accept the Korey Stringer Good Guy Award for professionalism with the media. "I'm sitting down next week and getting a plan with my trainer of what I want to attack this offseason, what I want to get better at and those things, but coming out of this season, it was one of my healthier years, and at the end of the year, my body is clean.
"I can just build on what I did last year and not have to have any setbacks, so I was blessed enough to come out clean and just try to get better at every aspect of my game."
The running back's 1,557 rushing yards were the second-most in the league behind Derrick Henry's 2,027 for Tennessee, and Cook also finished second to Henry in yards from scrimmage with 1,918, while scoring 17 touchdowns to tie for the third-most in the NFL.
He was voted to his second consecutive Pro Bowl, but did not receive a single vote for the AP All-Pro team, which only recognizes one running back on its first and second teams. Henry was chosen on 47 ballots from the panel of 50 sportswriters, and the Saints' Alvin Kamara (who led the league with 21 touchdowns) got three, leaving Cook off the team.
"I'm not really big on things like that, but when you go to the look at the facts of the situation, everything's there to be proven," Cook said. "So I don't know how I didn't make the list. You put it in your back pocket or in your mind or wherever you need to put it at to be a reminder for you to go be great, for you to work hard that day, and the next day. That's what you do. I just carry it with me, and those last reps when I'm tired, you push through for moments like that."
He will play for his fifth offensive coordinator in as many seasons in 2021, after Gary Kubiak's retirement last week. Quarterbacks coach Klint Kubiak is thought to be the leading candidate for the job, though the Vikings are required by league rules to interview at least one minority candidate from outside the organization.
The fact the Vikings' coaching staff figures to remain largely the same, and coach Mike Zimmer's preference that the offensive scheme stays intact, means Cook can likely count on plenty of opportunities again if he's healthy in 2021.
He said Wednesday he's confident he can handle the load by building his body up again this offseason, with a new coordinator likely to direct a scheme with plenty of emphasis on the run.
"With our offense, it's about finding balance, and we've got guys that can light the field up," Cook said. "We've got the backs, we've got the receivers, the tight ends, we've got the playmakers. I just think he's going to be that coach that comes in to find the balance early, to spread the ball around and get everybody involved, and that's not easy on the offensive coordinator when you've got so many guys that can make plays. So it's going to be us finding ourselves early and getting in that groove early."
Cook said the death of his father, who had a diabetic condition and died at age 46, has been a "tough time" for his family.
His focus going forward, he said, is on honoring his dad through the way he lives.
"I always think back to how things are supposed to be and how situations like this build character," Cook said. "It just shows who a man really is. My dad lived a great life, so I can continue to live that legacy and carry his name and do all of those things and continue to work hard. Things have been tough, but it gets better. That's why I've got my family and everybody that's around me, helping me get through the tough time."