EAGAN, Minn. – Sunday's season opener won't be Dalvin Cook's first NFL game, first outing at U.S. Bank Stadium or first performance in front of Vikings fans.
But for the second-year running back, it feels a little bit like another debut.
Cook got off to a hot start last season, but his rookie campaign was cut short by a torn ACL suffered against the Lions in Week 4. Now, he's looking forward to being back in action.
"It's going to be a packed stadium," Cook told media members in anticipation of the upcoming game against the 49ers. "It's going to be loud, we want it as loud as possible, and we know the fans are going to bring the energy, the most energy they can. It's definitely going to be an experience for me to get back out there in front of those fans."
Cook took two handoffs from Kirk Cousins in Minnesota's third preseason game against Seattle on Aug. 24. He said that the exhibition reps weren't necessary to ease anxiety about his knee, however, because any uncertainty has long-since diminished.
He emphasized that he's focused not on his knee but on the offense and knowing the playbook as thoroughly as possible.
"My knee is fine, it's ready to go, I'm ready to play," Cook said. "Those two carries were a plus, but I've been practicing the whole time, getting reps, going full speed … so just ready to get out there and ready to play. That's it at this point."
Cook was asked about the difference between being in "practice shape" versus being ready to take a heavy load on game day.
The 23-year-old smiled.
"We're going to find out, man, real soon. It's different," Cook acknowledged, adding that he intentionally makes sure to finish runs and see plays through during practice to keep himself in game-ready condition.
"But once the game comes, it's a different story," Cook said. "It will all be a mental thing on the other side, so you think about pushing through and wanting to get it done at the game. That's what it becomes when you're in the game."
Cook doesn't know if he'll be given a bulk of the action right out of the gate or if he'll be eased in and split carries with Latavius Murray. The Vikings also have fullback C.J. Ham, and undrafted rookies Mike Boone and Roc Thomas both made the 53-man roster.
Whatever Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer and Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo decide, however, is OK by Cook.
He stressed that he doesn't have any expectations about his workload.
"You know, whoever the carries get handed to, we're all happy with [it] because we know that once the ball is in anybody's hands in the backfield, in our running back room, something big can happen," Cook said. "So whoever touches the ball, we know we can get an explosive play out of any one of the guys in our running back room. So that part, whoever Coach Flip gives the ball to, we're all satisfied."
When Cook makes his "second debut" in front of fans at U.S. Bank Stadium this weekend, Cousins will step on the field for his first regular-season performance in Purple.
Though the two haven't had any real-game experience together, Cook said that Cousins has been a leader "since day one" of joining the Vikings as a free agent.
"You see the type of leader he is off the field," Cook said. "If you want to know anything, you can go to him, he's all ears.
"On the field, he does everything that you want him to do," Cook continued. "Having a guy like that back there next to me, throwing the [ball] around, it's going to be great for us this year."
And as much as he's looking forward to getting back on the field in a regular-season contest, Cook has learned to temper his emotions.
"You have to kind of tone it down a little bit because you could get overly excited, and that's when your mind [can start racing] about all types of things," Cook said. "[I'm] just ready … to go out there and compete against another team and just run around, man, have fun. It's the game we love to play, it's the game I love to play. So I'm just ready to go have fun."