The Vikings put Dalvin Cook in his only NFL games for 169 of 235 possible plays [72 percent] in the first quarter of last season.
While Cook has been honest about the difference of full practices and being in “game shape” after his ACL recovery, the Vikings are going to keep that in mind as they apparently plan to give him all he can handle in Sunday’s opener against the 49ers, according to offensive coordinator John DeFilippo.
“We’ll see how it goes. There’s nothing that hasn’t told us that he can’t carry the load,” DeFilippo said Thursday when asked if Cook would be on a ‘pitch count.’ “If there’s something during the game that comes up where he needs a blow, or he needs to come out of the football game, then we’ll handle that situation.”
A lot has changed since Cook made his NFL debut last September, when he took the league by storm ranking second in rushing yards through three games before the Oct. 1 injury.
The top priority is now Cook’s health, and how quickly he’ll regain his workhorse form after playing just four snaps this preseason. The Vikings monitored Cook’s practice reps closely, rotating full workloads in training camp before stringing together consecutive days of full practices.
By all Vikings accounts, Cook looks ready to lead the rushing attack immediately more than 11 months after injuring his left knee. He practiced and played without a brace last month, providing even more confidence Cook again trusts his surgically-repaired knee.
“Now it’s time for me to hone in on what we’re doing as an offense,” Cook said. “My knee is fine. It’s ready to go. I’m ready to play. Those [two preseason] carries were a plus, but I’ve been practicing the whole time, getting reps and going full speed. So, there’s nothing to that. I’m just ready to go out there and play. That’s it at this point.”
Also different is running back Latavius Murray’s health and readiness. When Cook dominated snaps and touches as a rookie last year, Murray was working through his own rehab from a spring ankle surgery that kept him sidelined through camp.
The 28-year-old Murray handled the starter’s reps while Cook eased back in this summer, and has looked impressive in preseason action albeit for a pair of fumbles. DeFilippo went as far as to say the Vikings feel they have “two legitimate starting running backs” between the two.
“If that does arise, where [Cook] needs a break,” DeFilippo said, “we’re confident in all the guys that we’re able to put in the football game.”