EAGAN, Minn. — Perhaps nobody on the Vikings roster is more excited these days than Dalvin Cook.
And not just for Sunday’s big prime-time game in Chicago against the Bears. No, the Vikings running back had the response of a little kid at Christmas on Thursday when he was asked how ready he was for the stretch run of the 2018 season.
“Hyped, man. I’m hyped. I’m hyped. I’m hyped,” Cook said. “Around this time last year I was on the couch, wishing I could compete and be out there.
“Now that I’m here, I have to take full advantage. I’m ready to go,” Cook added. “We’re having a good week of practice; now we have to keep building on it and get to the game. Then, let’s play.”
Cook has had an up-and-down sophomore season in the NFL.
He rehabbed all offseason from a torn ACL he suffered in Week 4 of the 2017 season, only to injure his hamstring late in Minnesota’s Week 2 tie in Green Bay.
That nagging injury limited Cook to just 18 offensive snaps (all in Week 4 against the Rams) and forced him to miss five full games.
Yet as the Vikings get ready for that stretch run that features four NFC North games in seven weeks, Cook appears to be ready to roll.
“To us, Dalvin is full-go,” said Vikings Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo. “Obviously you are going to see how the game is played out and those things … but Dalvin is anticipating on being full-go.”
Cook showed a flash of his explosiveness in his Week 9 return as he broke off a career-long, 70-yard run against the Lions.
The running back finished with 89 yards on 10 carries and said getting through the game against the Lions unscathed was like clearing a mental hurdle for him.
“Going into that game, I just wanted to tell myself I was ready,” Cook said. “It was a message to myself because, with a hamstring [injury], you have to tell yourself it’s a mind thing, and you’ve got to get over that hump.”
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said Cook’s presence in the lineup will hopefully help open up the playbook and give the Vikings a solid 1-2 punch on the ground with running back Latavius Murray, who leads the Vikings with 92 carries for 417 yards and five touchdowns.
“We can do a lot more things now with him and his speed and his catching ability … getting him into no-back [formations],” Zimmer said. “Him and Latavius, they’re just kind of different backs, but I think they mesh.”
Cook has 46 carries for 187 yards and no touchdowns this season, but it’s clear he is chomping at the bit to get in the end zone and help the Vikings make a playoff push over the next month and a half.
It’s a lot better than sitting on the couch.
“Whatever my role is and however many touches I get,” Cook said, “I’m going to go make them count, and I’m trying to go score with every one of them.”
Smith unchanged by flexing
Harrison Smith has been a pain in Chicago’s side over the years, as the All-Pro safety has four career interceptions in 10 games against the Bears.
The 29-year-old is never one to get too high or too low at any point in the season, so it’s understandable that Smith isn’t putting extra emphasis on Sunday’s game at Chicago.
“They all matter,” Smith later added. “People think it’s bigger because they flexed it to the night game, but it doesn’t make a difference to me.”
Smith ranks second on the Vikings with 52 total tackles (according to coaches’ tally) and has a team-high three interceptions to go along with 3.0 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
The stakes are high in Sunday’s game as the 5-3-1 Vikings can move into first place in the NFC North with a win over the 6-3 Bears.
Just don’t tell that to Smith.
“We don’t look ahead or what’s coming up after this, we’re just focused on right now,” Smith said. “We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves.”
For the Vikings: David Morgan (knee) and Andrew Sendejo (groin) did not practice. Mike Remmers (low back), Tom Compton (knee), Anthony Barr (hamstring), Xavier Rhodes (foot) and Adam Thielen (low back/calf) were limited. Stefon Diggs (rib), Linval Joseph (ankle/shoulder), Chad Beebe (abdomen) and Everson Griffen (toe) were full participants.
For the Bears: Javon Wims (knee) was limited. Dion Sims (concussion) did not practice.