Vikings' Cook may not be sleeper much longer

Chris Cook doesn't lack confidence and he believes others will start to recognize his skills the more he plays. So far, he is becoming more consistent in his play, his aggressiveness and his success, as he, his teammates and coaches all attest.

As the Vikings defense becomes more well-rounded and gets greater credit for the team's 5-2 start, several players have been singled out for the resurgence of defense in Minnesota.

Jared Allen has sacks in five straight games, including two Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals. Brian Robison recorded his first career three-sack game. Antoine Winfield has been singled out as playing the best football of his 14-year career. And rookie Harrison Smith is becoming known for his hard-hitting ways while also having the ball skills to become the first Vikings safety since 2003 to return an interception for a touchdown.

Somewhere in that mix of laudations should be Chris Cook. He only has one sack, but he isn't asked to blitz as often as Winfield or the safeties. He is only eighth on the team in tackles with 27, but few can compete with Winfield, who is second with 61. Where Cook has been improving – maybe even exceling – lately is with his coverage ability.

"I think his confidence has just grown. Early in the season I thought he was coming along, but he has really taken a leap over the last two or three weeks. I've been very, very impressed with the progress he's made," said Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, a former cornerback himself. "There was a transition for him getting back and playing and getting up to the level that we thought he was at about this time a year ago. But his confidence has grown. A lot of that has to do with the success he is having in practice, but also what he's doing in the games. We feel like he can match up with some of the best receivers in this league. It's helped our defense."

Consider some of the Vikings' biggest wins this season. The San Francisco 49ers had Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and Josh Crabtree as a triple threat. None of them had more than 60 yards receiving against the Vikings. The Detroit Lions' Calvin Johnson has three games with 110 yards or more this season, including marks of 164 and 135 yards surrounding his outing against the Vikings. But Cook and company helped limited Johnson to five catches for 54 yards despite the big receiver being targeted 12 times.

Sunday, Cook faced another big-bodied receiver, Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald Jr., who was coming off back-to-back games with more than 90 yards receiving. Fitzgerald's line against the Vikings: Seven targets, four receptions, 29 yards.

"I think a lot of people have always thought Chris has so much ability, and once he got over that being-young thing, now he's really come into his own and he's a mature leader on this team and especially in this defense," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "A guy you can count on and a guy who can go out there with his size and match up with anybody."

That's been one of the keys to the Vikings' defensive progress. Their secondary as a whole has progressed, to the point that they now have the 11th-ranked pass defense, but individually Cook has grown.

According to both Cook and Frazier, the 6-foot-2, 212-pound cornerback is rounding back into shape, both physically and mentally, after allegations of domestic assault took away the final 10 games of his 2011 season. Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of the first of 10 straight games he didn't play to close out the 2011 season.

"It definitely made me refocus. Any time you have the potential to lose what you love to do, it's going to make you refocus and re-evaluate what you have going on in your personal life, as well as my job," Cook said. "It just helps me realize what I love to do and I wouldn't rather be doing anything else. It's just helped me refocus and put in a lot more time than I used to inside the building."

The Vikings have always believed that Cook brings unique size and skills to the cornerback position. But lately, according to Frazier, defensive backs coach Joe Woods has been challenging Cook to live up to those skills.

"We drafted him because of his size and his length and his speed and his football IQ," Frazier said. "For him, it's been a matter of time for him getting the reps because he's still a guy that doesn't have a long résumé when it comes to starts. The more task on hand he gets, the better it seems he's performing. It's good for us he's accepting that challenge and being able to match up with big receivers because we need that from him and it's helped our defense."

Cook said he hasn't viewed his interactions with his defensive backs coach as being challenged as much as Woods trying to instill confidence in him.

"It was more of a cooperation. He tells me what he sees in me. He tells me what he thinks I can do and he tells me he thinks I should be able to dominate guys no matter who it is, and I feel like he just spoon feeds me confidence, just trying to get me to go out there and play fast and go out there and do what they know I can do and what I know I can do," Cook said.

It must be working because Cook, although generally low-key, doesn't lack confidence.

"I feel like I can be one of the best corners to play the game without a doubt in my mind," he said. "I had some injuries and had some time off due to the legal issues. I'm getting back to where I want to be and I'm playing up to speed. I feel like I'm playing the best I've ever played."

Cook sees the other cornerbacks that were drafted in 2010 and believes it's just a matter of time before he gets the recognition they do. Five of them went in the first round – Joe Haden (No. 7 overall) to the Browns, Kareem Jackson (No. 20) to the Texans, Devin McCourty (No. 27) to the Patriots, Kyle Wilson (No. 29) to the Jets and Patrick Robinson (32) to the Saints.

The Vikings traded out of the first round and selected Cook No. 34 overall.

"I definitely feel like I'm in the sleeper category. I feel like guys don't really know about me because I haven't really played as much as people that came in with me in 2010, guys like Devin McCourty," he said. "I came out with all of those guys. They've been on the field more than me. I just feel like I'm a sleeper because I haven't played."

With an injury-filled rookie season and more than half of his second year spent on the inactive list because of his legal issues, Cook has already established a career high. He has started seven consecutive games in a season and he leads the team with 11 passes defensed.

He said he has learned the tendencies of some of the league's big receivers and how his physical style at times isn't something they are used to facing too often. He said he was never intimidated going against them earlier in his career, but he may have been more tentative than he has been of late.

Now, after drawing Johnson and Fitzgerald in two of the last four games, he gets to deal with Vincent Jackson, who has hit the 100-yard mark or better in three of his last five games, including a 216-yard performance Sunday against the New Orleans Saints – when he averaged an impressive 30.9 yards on seven catches.

"They're all pretty much the same guy," Cook said of Johnson, Fitzgerald and Jackson. "They're all physical. They like when they get press coverage because they are so big and they're used to having smaller guys they can pull through and go right by them, and when they throw the jump ball they don't really have to work as hard because most corners aren't as big as me. They just go up and get the ball with ease."

Thing is, not much has come "with ease" for receivers going against Cook lately. If he can hold down Jackson like he did with Johnson and Fitzgerald, he may not be a sleeper much longer.


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.



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\r\n\r\n\r\n","mobileBody":"As the Vikings defense becomes more well-rounded and gets greater credit for the team's 5-2 start, several players have been singled out for the resurgence of defense in Minnesota. Jared Allen has sacks in five straight games, including two Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals. Brian Robison recorded his first career three-sack game. Antoine Winfield has been singled out as playing the best football of his 14-year career. And rookie Harrison Smith is becoming known for his hard-hitting ways while also having the ball skills to become the first Vikings safety since 2003 to return an interception for a touchdown. Somewhere in that mix of laudations should be Chris Cook. He only has one sack, but he isn't asked to blitz as often as Winfield or the safeties. He is only eighth on the team in tackles with 27, but few can compete with Winfield, who is second with 61. Where Cook has been improving – maybe even exceling – lately is with his coverage ability. \"I think his confidence has just grown. Early in the season I thought he was coming along, but he has really taken a leap over the last two or three weeks. I've been very, very impressed with the progress he's made,\" said Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, a former cornerback himself. \"There was a transition for him getting back and playing and getting up to the level that we thought he was at about this time a year ago. But his confidence has grown. A lot of that has to do with the success he is having in practice, but also what he's doing in the games. We feel like he can match up with some of the best receivers in this league. It's helped our defense.\" Consider some of the Vikings' biggest wins this season. The San Francisco 49ers had Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and Josh Crabtree as a triple threat. None of them had more than 60 yards receiving against the Vikings. The Detroit Lions' Calvin Johnson has three games with 110 yards or more this season, including marks of 164 and 135 yards surrounding his outing against the Vikings. But Cook and company helped limited Johnson to five catches for 54 yards despite the big receiver being targeted 12 times. Sunday, Cook faced another big-bodied receiver, Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald Jr., who was coming off back-to-back games with more than 90 yards receiving. Fitzgerald's line against the Vikings: Seven targets, four receptions, 29 yards. \"I think a lot of people have always thought Chris has so much ability, and once he got over that being-young thing, now he's really come into his own and he's a mature leader on this team and especially in this defense,\" linebacker Chad Greenway said. \"A guy you can count on and a guy who can go out there with his size and match up with anybody.\" That's been one of the keys to the Vikings' defensive progress. Their secondary as a whole has progressed, to the point that they now have the 11th-ranked pass defense, but individually Cook has grown. According to both Cook and Frazier, the 6-foot-2, 212-pound cornerback is rounding back into shape, both physically and mentally, after allegations of domestic assault took away the final 10 games of his 2011 season. Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of the first of 10 straight games he didn't play to close out the 2011 season. \"It definitely made me refocus. Any time you have the potential to lose what you love to do, it's going to make you refocus and re-evaluate what you have going on in your personal life, as well as my job,\" Cook said. \"It just helps me realize what I love to do and I wouldn't rather be doing anything else. It's just helped me refocus and put in a lot more time than I used to inside the building.\" The Vikings have always believed that Cook brings unique size and skills to the cornerback position. But lately, according to Frazier, defensive backs coach Joe Woods has been challenging Cook to live up to those skills. \"We drafted him because of his size and his length and his speed and his football IQ,\" Frazier said. \"For him, it's been a matter of time for him getting the reps because he's still a guy that doesn't have a long résumé when it comes to starts. The more task on hand he gets, the better it seems he's performing. It's good for us he's accepting that challenge and being able to match up with big receivers because we need that from him and it's helped our defense.\" Cook said he hasn't viewed his interactions with his defensive backs coach as being challenged as much as Woods trying to instill confidence in him. \"It was more of a cooperation. He tells me what he sees in me. He tells me what he thinks I can do and he tells me he thinks I should be able to dominate guys no matter who it is, and I feel like he just spoon feeds me confidence, just trying to get me to go out there and play fast and go out there and do what they know I can do and what I know I can do,\" Cook said. It must be working because Cook, although generally low-key, doesn't lack confidence. \"I feel like I can be one of the best corners to play the game without a doubt in my mind,\" he said. \"I had some injuries and had some time off due to the legal issues. I'm getting back to where I want to be and I'm playing up to speed. I feel like I'm playing the best I've ever played.\" Cook sees the other cornerbacks that were drafted in 2010 and believes it's just a matter of time before he gets the recognition they do. Five of them went in the first round – Joe Haden (No. 7 overall) to the Browns, Kareem Jackson (No. 20) to the Texans, Devin McCourty (No. 27) to the Patriots, Kyle Wilson (No. 29) to the Jets and Patrick Robinson (32) to the Saints. The Vikings traded out of the first round and selected Cook No. 34 overall. \"I definitely feel like I'm in the sleeper category. I feel like guys don't really know about me because I haven't really played as much as people that came in with me in 2010, guys like Devin McCourty,\" he said. \"I came out with all of those guys. They've been on the field more than me. I just feel like I'm a sleeper because I haven't played.\" With an injury-filled rookie season and more than half of his second year spent on the inactive list because of his legal issues, Cook has already established a career high. He has started seven consecutive games in a season and he leads the team with 11 passes defensed. He said he has learned the tendencies of some of the league's big receivers and how his physical style at times isn't something they are used to facing too often. He said he was never intimidated going against them earlier in his career, but he may have been more tentative than he has been of late. Now, after drawing Johnson and Fitzgerald in two of the last four games, he gets to deal with Vincent Jackson, who has hit the 100-yard mark or better in three of his last five games, including a 216-yard performance Sunday against the New Orleans Saints – when he averaged an impressive 30.9 yards on seven catches. \"They're all pretty much the same guy,\" Cook said of Johnson, Fitzgerald and Jackson. \"They're all physical. They like when they get press coverage because they are so big and they're used to having smaller guys they can pull through and go right by them, and when they throw the jump ball they don't really have to work as hard because most corners aren't as big as me. They just go up and get the ball with ease.\" Thing is, not much has come \"with ease\" for receivers going against Cook lately. If he can hold down Jackson like he did with Johnson and Fitzgerald, he may not be a sleeper much longer. 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