Last year at this time, Chris Cook was the talk of training camp. Every day he did something to stand out and make his mark. Unfortunately, it didn't stay that way. Cook suffered meniscus strains in both knees and saw his rookie season reduced to just six games.
A year later, Cook said he is ready to pick up where he left off last year in Mankato – despite being in a very different situation. With players unable to practice at minicamps and OTAs due to the lockout, Cook said the new procedures that ban two-a-day practices in full pads will have a benefit for players later in the season – if teams have two practices in one day, one of them has to be a walk-through.
While fans and media may not be thrilled about the new-look practice schedule, Cook said he believes it will be good for younger players trying to adapt to the frenetic pace of the NFL.
"It saves your body a lot by not having two full-out practices a day," Cook said. "It helps the younger guys by having the walk-through practices, just so they can see things slower and how they're supposed to work. This game is very fast, especially coming from college to the NFL. I think they help a lot from the mental aspect."
Cook said that, despite the lack of offseason activity, he can see the differences in his second training camp as opposed to his rookie camp in 2010. He said last year was filled with questions and studying. This year, he said he feels much more comfortable and is trying to take on more of a leadership role in his second season.
"It's a lot different this year because I know all the terminology and what the coaches expect from me in practice," Cook said. "I was the guy asking questions last year. Now those younger guys are asking me questions. I help them out and try to pass along what I know, and when I don't know I tell them to ask [defensive backs coach] Joe [Woods] or Antoine [Winfield]. I got a lot of help last year at this time and feel like I owe it to the new guys to try to help them out where I can."
When asked if he has any specific goals for this season, Cook wasn't shy about making a bold prediction – after one goal that is much more simplified.
"Just staying healthy is one of my main goals for this year," Cook said. "That was a problem last year, getting the first knee injury and, when that healed, hurting the other one. As far as personal goals, I set the bar high. I'm looking to get 10 interceptions this year. I know that there aren't a lot of guys who get 10 interceptions in a year, but I set the bar there and hopefully I get close to it or achieve that goal."
Given his rookie season, playing 10 games would seem like a realistic goal. He said that he had high hopes of making an impact and, thanks to an injury to Cedric Griffin, he started five of the six games he played. Staying on the field became problematic, however, and he said he tried to be philosophical about the injuries but admitted it got him more than a little bit angry. This season, he's hoping his hard work in the offseason will pay dividends in his second season.
"It was very frustrating last year never being at 100 percent, but injuries are part of the game," Cook said. "It's a physical game and you have to know your body. I did a lot of work during the lockout to try to keep in shape and get stronger. I'm trying move on from that and do the best I can this year. You can prepare yourself as best you can, but you can't dwell on it or worry about getting hurt again. Those things happen in the NFL. You just hope they don't happen to you."
Cook said that, despite changes to the defensive personnel, everyone is feeling good about where they're at heading into the 2011 season. There is a relaxed atmosphere, but, without the benefit of the typical offseason, the progress at this point is measured more in baby steps than leaps and bounds.
"Everybody is more comfortable," Cook said. "You can see it and you can feel it. We're still getting our feet under us and it's going to be a process. I'm sure if we had OTAs and minicamps, everybody would have their feet under them and be moving a lot faster. But it's coming and we'll be ready when it starts up for real."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.