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Dalvin Cook's 3rd Course

A little more the midway through the opening quarter in Minnesota's third preseason game, Dalvin Cook broke free.

The Vikings running back, who was making his preseason debut, took a handoff and angled to the left before making a quick cut to the right a few yards behind the line of scrimmage.

Touchdown, Cook thought.

Cook burst past the line of scrimmage and charged ahead, breaking a tackle near the 35-yard line before staying on his feet and breezing into the end zone. The 85-yard touchdown run in front of a raucous crowd at U.S. Bank Stadium was the longest in Vikings preseason history.

"That's me. I feel like if I get to the second level, it's my job to change the scoreboard," Cook said. "As a running back, you only get in the secondary so many times, so you have to take advantage of that."

Cook's dazzling touchdown run in exhibition play was a hopeful glimpse of what the Vikings running back can do if healthy on more a consistent basis this season.

As the Vikings prepare to open the 2019 regular season, Cook will be counted upon to carry the load in a Minnesota run game that endured ups and downs in 2018.

The same can be said for Cook's career thus far, as the running back has played in 15 of 32 possible games since being a second-round pick in 2017.

He missed the majority of his rookie season with an ACL injury and then was limited to 11 games in 2018 with a nagging hamstring injury.

When healthy, Cook has proven he can be a game-changer in Purple, as evident by the first three games of his career, in which he had 61 carries for 288 yards (4.7 yards per attempt) to go along with a touchdown run.

There was also his impressive 70-yard run against the Lions in Week 9 of the 2018 season, not to mention his eye-popping performance in Week 15 at home against Miami, where Cook ran for a career-high 136 yards and added two scores on just 19 carries.

As Cook enters his third season in the NFL, he's ready for whatever workload the Vikings have in store for him.

"I was brought here to do a job, and that job is to carry the football as many times as they want to hand it to me," Cook said. "Injuries happen, ups and downs happen in people's career … and I was unfortunate enough to be one of those guys … I had some injuries and the bumps in the road.

"But now I'm having fun and back to being me," Cook added. "However many times Kirk [Cousins] hands me that football, I'm going to show up and run it as hard as I can."

The Vikings tweaked their offensive coaching staff this offseason, removing the interim tag and promoting Kevin Stefanski to offensive coordinator while also bringing in a handful of new faces.

Gary Kubiak is the Vikings assistant head coach/offensive advisor, and Rick Dennison is the offensive line coach and run game coordinator.

The expectation is that the Vikings will use a zone-scheme rushing attack that was illustrated perfectly by Cook's lengthy preseason touchdown run — if the defense gets moving in one direction, a nifty cutback by the running back could mean a highlight-reel play.

Yet even though Cook is the type of back who can thrive in this system, Stefanski was quick to point out that the running back is skilled enough to perform in any scheme.

"I think anything fits Dalvin's skill set, to be quite honest," Stefanski said. "I really do believe there is no schematic limitation to Dalvin Cook, so certainly zone scheme is a big part of what we do, and he fits it really well just off his God-given ability.

"The other thing I would say about Dalvin Cook is that nobody works harder than him. I think for our offense, Dalvin Cook is a leader. He's out here working his tail off," Stefanski added. "In the meeting rooms he is outstanding, so Dalvin's definitely a leader and somebody that we are lucky we have and are excited about what he's about to do. I don't think there is one set type of run that he is better at than another."

Vikings RB Dalvin Cook and the Vikings Table distributed free healthy meals to local youth this week.

Through the first two seasons of his NFL career, Cook has recorded 207 carries for 969 yards (4.7 yards per attempt) and has found the end zone four times on the ground.

Cook will likely be a focal point of Minnesota's offense and will also be counted upon to lead a running back room in which he could be one of the elder statesman despite being in just his third season in the NFL.

But most of all, Cook is ready to stay healthy and produce on the field — for the Vikings, for his teammates and for himself.

"I love catching the football and love making plays, so any way I can get the ball in my hands and change the scoreboard or change the [first-down] markers, I'm willing to do that," Cook said. "Any way possible. Catching the ball, running the football … I'm willing to do it. I consider myself a three-down back.

"It's not really just about me, it's about us going to win football games," Cook added. "I'm going to do my individual assignment and put the work in I need to put in right now to help us win football games."