EAGAN, Minn. – Different year, same Dalvin.
Vikings running back Dalvin Cook laughed as he ran off the field following a team drill. His signature grin couldn't be missed, even by media members posted a considerable distance beyond the practice fields.
As we well know, Cook is happiest with a football in his hands. Voluntary Organized Team Activity practices likely can become a drag for veteran players, but Cook is raring to go for his fifth NFL season.
"I'm feeling good. I've been busting my tail all offseason, trying to get ready," Cook told Twin Cities reporters following Wednesday's OTA session. "For me, it's all about staying patient. I want to play football right now. That's how my body feels. I feel good."
The preceding inquiry? How does your body feel after 312 carries last season?
It's a fair question, to be sure. Cook's previous season total had been 250 rushes in 2019. But he never once balked at last year's workload – on the contrary, it was welcomed.
Over 14 games, Cook racked up 1,557 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns. He added 44 catches for 361 yards and a score through the air.
He's looking to continue that kind of production in 2021.
Cook said he's been "lifting pretty good" throughout the offseason and spring workout program.
"My first couple of years I got banged up, and it was, 'What can I do a little different to not get put in that situation again?' Focusing on those little muscles, you know, focusing on the things that you think don't matter," he explained. "I knew I had to get stronger. Not like any body-builder stuff, but I just went in there, hit a couple extra reps, squatted more, focused on my legs more.
"That was all for me," he added. "My speed was out there on the field – just getting faster and more explosive was key for me. It wasn't anything special I did in the weight room. I just attacked it a little harder."
Vikings new Offensive Coordinator Klint Kubiak assured that Cook won't be overworked.
"He's got an unbelievable coach, Kennedy Polamalu, who's always tracking those things. Our strength staff (is) monitoring their workload in practice every day with the GPS tracker, so we're aware of his touches," Kubiak explained.
And if those trackers show a high level of activity? Don't sweat it, Cook says.
"That's probably me running around, just talking BS, man. Just me running around doing that," he laughed. "That's what I do. I like to have fun. We're going to get our work done, we're pros, we know what we need to get accomplished. Business is business. But I like to bring that kid out of everybody. I'm still a kid. I'm 25 and having fun on the field. That's my happy place. I'm going to bring that out of everybody."
Added Kubiak: "We're going to manage [the reps], but you also want to get him plenty of work because – like all players – they need repetition to improve. So we'll definitely monitor them and make sure come the season that he's hitting his stride then, as opposed to right now during OTAs."
Cook appreciates another year under Polamalu, and although his offensive coordinator has changed, the last name – and much of the system – has not.
"I still have a Kubiak as my coordinator," quipped Cook of Klint Kubiak stepping into the role previously held by his father Gary. "When you get a new coordinator, the language changes, plays change, you get a new system. I think we know our identity as an offense, and things haven't changed as much.
"You get different [terminology], you get different calls now and then," Cook continued. "Klint is a smart coach, and last year it was fun being around him. He's one of those coaches that is fun to be around. He's going to bring that competitive side out of you. Having him as an offensive coordinator, I know it's going to be a fun year. Like I said, the only thing that's changed is some of our wording, but identity as an offense, I think we know who we are."
The Vikings are tied for the second-youngest team in the NFL, and Cook is taking responsibility upon himself not only for game day but also as a locker room leader.
He aims to be an even better teammate this season – something that seems tough to do for a guy who's already so well-respected by his peers.
"We have a young team, and me stepping up and being who Dalvin Cook is and not stepping outside of the box and being nobody else [is important]," Cook said. "Helping guys get better. Helping guys get comfortable. I think that's going to be the best way this team goes where we want it to go. That's just us getting to know each other, us jelling, us [veterans] leading the other guys.
"That's where I have to excel – as a leader. The on-field stuff is going to take care of itself," Cook added. "I train hard, I work hard, I put the right stuff in my body and things like that. That's going to take care of itself; but being that leader for this team, that's going to be important for us this year."
Being physically and mentally prepared feels even more crucial ahead of a season featuring 17 regular-season games.
And while that extra game certainly puts a 2,000-yard season more within reach, Cook emphasized that individual marks aren't his main objective.
"I want to make the playoffs. That's my goal," Cook said. "I've never really set a goal ever since I got to Minnesota. My main goal was just go out there and be Dalvin Cook, and I think everything will take care of itself. I never really set a goal for X-number of yards and 'This is what I want.' I always say work hard and when the season comes around, just be who I am and let it go. That's what I do."