Amazingly, just about the surest thing the Minnesota Vikings have in their secondary is cornerback Chris Cook.
Antoine Winfield's snaps could eventually be reduced to a nickel role this season, the third cornerback spot is left to be decided among a group that includes veterans Chris Carr and Zack Bowman and youngsters Josh Robinson and Brandon Burton, and neither of the two safety spots have been decided, although it certainly looks as if rookie Harrison Smith will stake his claim at free safety.
And then there is Cook, the player who struggled with minor surgeries to both of his knees in his rookie season and missed the final 10 games last year after an arrest for felony domestic assault, a charge on which he was found not guilty. This year, it appears, Cook is receiving nothing but positive reviews from teammates and coaches, and he doesn't lack for confidence himself.
"I set my expectations high, man. I consider myself to be one of the best in the league and I feel I can compete with anyone, so I set my bar very high," Cook said toward the beginning of training camp.
Despite looking like the player that got beat on QB Colin Kaepernick's 78-yard touchdown run Friday night, there were plenty of other players to blame that bit on Kaepernick's playfake, but the reality is that as long as Cook is healthy and stays out of trouble, he is the team's best young cover cornerback.
"Looks good, looks outstanding," new defensive coordinator Alan Williams said after seeing Cook in training camp action. "He is quick, he's intelligent, he plays like a veteran. He is in shape and he plays multiple positions. We have him outside, we have him inside and he picks it up so we're glad to have him here."
Having Cook available is the biggest key in his continued development. His talent is obvious, from his speed, his size (6-2) and his skills to play the ball in the air. But can he stay healthy? And can he put a troubled past permanently in the past?
"I like where his mind is at right now. He's focused. That off-the-field stuff is behind him," Winfield said. "He's working hard every day that he's out here. He's competing. He's making plays on the ball. He's asking questions. He's studying the film. I'm expecting a big season out of him."
The Vikings could certainly use it. They finished 26th in pass defense last year despite having the NFL sacks leader, Jared Allen, and a complementary group of defensive linemen pressure the quarterback pretty consistently. The also managed a paltry eight interceptions.
By the end of the season, Cook was inactive while dealing with legal troubles, Winfield was on injured and was joined by safeties Husain Abdullah and Tyrell Johnson.
The Vikings are slowly turning over their defensive backfield, but if Cook can show a consistency to his game and his life, he could be a staple of the secondary for years to come. Winfield believes Cook can be that all-around the Vikings need.
"He is. He could be. He could be that corner that can match up with the big receivers," Winfield said. "We play Calvin (Johnson). He can go up against him and has great athletic ability. He can jump. He's tall. It would be a nice matchup for him."
As the Vikings make changes around Cook, head coach Leslie Frazier believes "our depth is the best that I've ever seen here."
Frazier also has seen plenty of positive signs from Cook on the field in training camp.
"There was one play where he broke downhill and made a nice interception. Then in one-on-ones, they tried to throw a deep ball on him and he intercepted that one too," Frazier said about a recent stretch of Cook splash plays in practice. "… I'm seeing a complete football player, which is what you want to have. You don't want just a cover corner. You don't just want a guy that's run support. You want a complete player and so far that's what we are seeing from him. Hopefully that's what we'll continue to see."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Cornerback Cook impressing at camp
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