EAGAN, Minn. – Dalvin Cook gave his hamstring a pretty good test with an explosive 70-yard run against the Lions Sunday.
Cook was in high spirits after the game, during which he recorded 89 yards rushing, and into the bye week. Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer was asked Monday if Cook's long run after missing four games with the injury provided an added boost of confidence for the running back.
"Dalvin is a pretty confident guy. But I do think him being able to go through there and come in today feeling great, I think that is all good for going forward," Zimmer told Twin Cities media members.
Latavius Murray played well in Cook's absence, and Minnesota's run game was a joint effort from the duo. But Zimmer acknowledged Cook's ability to open things up at any given moment, as illustrated by his long run.
"And actually there was one other run that I thought he was going to pop that he just got tripped on," Zimmer said. "He's got a chance to hit home runs. I think it was really good for him to get out there and get some game action.
Added Zimmer: "When you've [missed four games] and you haven't practiced all that much – I think he will continue to get better, see some of the cuts a little better as he gets going.
Here are four other topics covered by Zimmer during his session with media:
1. 'It's been a learning process'
The Vikings returned a large percentage of their roster from the 2017 season, especially on defense, but there are still significant differences.
Is Zimmer still learning things about what the 2018 Vikings potential?
"Yeah. I think so. It's been a process this year," Zimmer said. "We've had a new offensive coordinator (John DeFilippo), new quarterback (Kirk Cousins), we've been missing some guys there, and defensively we didn't start out well.
"Every year is a new year, but I do feel like we're starting to look a lot more like I kind of expect us to – and I hope we continue to do that," Zimmer continued. "But yeah, I do think it's still kind of a learning process."
2. Bye week coming at a good time
In addition to being a "learning process," Zimmer also said the first half of this season has felt particularly draining.
Zimmer said during his postgame session Sunday night that the bye week is coming at a good time – for himself and for the players.
"We're fairly beat up. Defensively, we've been beat up for a few weeks. We've got some guys offensively that hopefully we can get back," Zimmer said. "Quite honestly, I need a break. My new thing is, we should have two eight-game seasons, eight in the fall and eight in the spring. Then I can enjoy my year."
Zimmer was asked a follow-up question Monday and said it "probably feels more draining because it's this year." The Vikings have dealt with a few obstacles this season, including the tragic passing of former offensive line coach Tony Sparano just before training camp.
"The NFL season is such a grind because you're doing it since July, and you're sitting up there [in your office] studying tape every day," Zimmer said. "If you get to go home when the sun is out, you feel like a normal person. But it is what it is."
Check out Vikings DE Danielle Hunter and DE Everson Griffen celebrating during the Vikings-Lions game on Sunday. The defense set a franchise record with 10 sacks in one game in the 24-9 victory.
3. Emphasis on third-downs paying off
The Vikings defense this season has allowed opponents to convert just 26 of 101 (25.7 percent) of third-down attempts. They are keeping on pace to match last season's rate of 25.2 percent on third downs.
Zimmer has spent a lot of time focusing on third downs with his coaching staff and in practice with the team. He delved a little into the process Monday and credited the Vikings success to not only the emphasis on situational football but, ultimately, the players' performance.
"We look at [third downs] on Tuesdays as a defensive staff," Zimmer said. "We used to spend a little more time on it now, but since we were giving up a lot of big plays on first and second down, we spend a lot more time doing that on Tuesdays and then we go back to third downs on Wednesdays. I probably look at the third-down tape four or five times during the week.
"Honestly, our players are executing," Zimmer added. "We changed some of the calls yesterday that we haven't called, but you go to execute anyway; so whatever you do, you have to execute – and they've been doing a good job."
4. Reaction to Bears game moving to Sunday Night Football
The NFL announced Monday that the divisional matchup between the Vikings and Bears on Nov. 18 was flexed from a noon (CT) start to 7:20 p.m. (CT) and air on NBC's Sunday Night Football.
Zimmer said he doesn't feel too strongly one way or the other about the kickoff time being shifted.
"I mean, they just tell us when to play, we show up," Zimmer said. "Try to get a win somehow."