MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Dalvin Cook’s enviable blend of agility, grit, power and speed has been on full display over the first four games for the Minnesota Vikings.
Vision on the field is just as vital in Cook’s success, honed by the constant preparation that takes place each week on his iPad.
In this high-tech work, the NFL’s rushing leader also leans on a collection of video clips dating to the pre-digital age: highlights from one of his all-time favorite players, Barry Sanders.
“I watch it because how he sets his runs up, how he develops things in his mind, and I kind of see it from a clear-eye view,” Cook said. “Every time I watch his plays, I see something different from him, and how he sees things.”
Sanders, whose final season with the Detroit Lions came when Cook was 3 years old, led the league in rushing four times in his 10 seasons. His trademark elusiveness around the line of scrimmage gave Sanders a style that was all his own. Still, the Pro Football Hall of Fame member ran with a purpose and intelligence that still carries valuable lessons for running backs now.
“I just want to be as explosive as he was,” Cook said. “I know that’s not possible, but I’m going to try to match it as best that I can.”
After missing 21 of a possible 52 games over his first three years, Cook signed a $63 million contract extension on Sept. 12 and has quickly showed why he was worth such an investment for a salary-cap-strapped team. He’s the first Vikings player to lead the NFL in rushing yards (424) and touchdowns (six) through four games. Adrian Peterson was the only previous player in team history to finish a season (2015) in the lead in both categories, though he tied for first in touchdowns.
“The offseason I think was key for me, because I got a chance to work on a lot of things, putting on some more muscle and putting it on the right way,” said Cook, whose current average per carry (5.7) is nearly a full yard better than his previous career best.
Many of his career-high-matching 27 carries last week in Minnesota’s victory at Houston came with contact. Though a highly subjective statistic, according to SportRadar tracking Cook is tied for seventh in the league with 10 broken tackles this season. There was no better example of his toughness and determination than the 7-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, when he powered through four defenders, the last one with a wicked stiff arm at the goal line.
“I’m not the biggest back, but in my heart I feel like I am,” the 5-foot-10, 210-pound Cook said. “At the end of the day, it’s going to be man versus man on the field. It’s just like my preparation versus yours, and that’s why I put myself in as much game reps as I can during the week.”
The Vikings (1-3) play at Seattle (4-0) on Sunday night. Cook left the game in Seattle last year in the third quarter, when he hurt his shoulder at the end of a run that resulted in a fumble.
“He’s so explosive and so creative with his movement and his vision. He really is a great player,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “You can see him burst, bounce the ball outside, bring the ball totally against the grain of the play, break tackles.”
“Sometimes they’ll play the replay on the scoreboard and you’ll kind of look at it and you’ll just be like, ‘Did he really just do that again?’” right tackle Brian O’Neill said.
Vikings safety Harrison Smith confirmed Friday he was fined $15,000 after the helmet-to-helmet hit that got him ejected in the second quarter last week and knocked Houston tight end Jordan Akins out of the game with a concussion. The amount matches the league’s schedule for hits on a defenseless player.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said earlier that he didn’t believe Smith’s disqualification was warranted: “He’s never been a dirty player, and I feel like he tried to get his shoulder in there.”
Smith will appeal the fine in order to hear the NFL’s explanation of how he should have approached the play differently, still unsure exactly why he was ejected: “Obviously, I wasn’t a fan of it,” he said.
The Vikings have cornerback Mike Hughes (neck) back this week from a two-game absence, but fellow starter Holton Hill (foot) and backup Kris Boyd (hamstring) were listed as questionable to play at Seattle. Kick returner K.J. Osborn (hamstring) was ruled out. Linebacker Eric Kendricks (foot) was back on the field Friday after missing two practices and on track to play the Seahawks.