Dalvin Cook swore for months that he was going to be the same player upon his return from a torn ACL that he was last season as a second-round rookie draft pick.
After one regular season game, people are starting to believe him.
Known for his huge workloads in three-and-a-half games last season, some wondered whether Cook would be on a proverbial pitch count in his debut.
Twenty-two touches for 95 yards, including six catches for 55 yards. He got the ball on Minnesota’s first four offensive plays — two catches, two carries.
“It’s exciting to get him going and get him going early and often,” said receiver Stefon Diggs, “to see him back out there playing, happy about it, excited.”
Cook missed the final 12 games last season after injuring his left knee on a cutback versus the Detroit Lions. The Oct. 1 injury cost him the 2017 season but gave him plenty of time to rehab for a Week 1, 2018 return.
While spending long days in the training room with Eric Sugarman and navigating around Winter Park on crutches, Cook also had the chance to observe, sit in meetings and enhance his understanding of the game.
“Just knowing where guys are going to be at, knowing where I was going to fit at and knowing where the run is going to hit at,” Cook said Wednesday about his increased football IQ. “Just knowing defenses, basically. I’m not going to sit up here and say I know all the defenses, but I know enough to get plays going and to make explosive plays. That time off did help me a lot to get familiar with how defenses feel us out as an offense.”
Latavius Murray took a share of Cook’s role in his absence. He said that the rookie remained inquisitive during his rehab, picking his and Jerick McKinnon’s brain.
“I think, for him, he’s always been that way even before the injury,” Murray said. “Him still being able to learn and continue to grow as far as being off the field, I think he definitely was doing that while not being able to play.”
Cook tried chalking up his time off as a positive, telling himself that he probably needed a break from absorbing so many hits.
But he wasn’t shying away from contact against the 49ers. His most dynamic run of the day actually resulted in a lost fumble, but not before he’d bounced off tackle attempts by linebackers Brock Coyle and Mark Nzeocha and nearly broke away.
He said he didn’t feel much soreness on Monday despite taking the most contact he had in over 11 months. As he described it, Cook has worked his way back into “banging shape.”
“The knee thing is over with,” he said. “It’s football now. I’m trying to focus in on that. Got a game plan this week, and that’s Green Bay. The knee thing is out of the way, and everything that I focus on each week is the team that we got at hand.”
Sunday’s game at Green Bay will be Cook’s first against Minnesota’s bitter rival. To his relief, he’ll get to enter it without swirling questions about whether his knee is ready or his mind is in the right place.
“He wanted to get back to full strength even better,” said Diggs, “so to see him back out there running around, having a good time and back to his normal form is definitely a blessing to see.”