Chris Cook has missed the Vikings' latest matchups with the big receivers of the NFC North – Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall – but he is targeting the Vikings' Dec. 23 game against Andre Johnson and the Houston Texans for his return to the playing field.
Cook has been out of the lineup since fracturing his forearm on Oct. 25 while making a tackle against the Tampa Buccaneers. Since then, A.J. Jefferson, acquire before the start of the season in a trade with the Arizona Cardinals, has started for Cook and rookie Josh Robinson has played in the nickel defense.
But the absence of Cook facing team's big receivers has been noticeable.
In the Vikings' first game against the Detroit Lions, Calvin Johnson had five catches for 54 yards with Cook in the lineup. In the second game, with Cook sidelined with the broken arm, Johnson had 12 catches for 207 yards. He had 13 passes thrown his way in the Nov. 11 matchup, only one fewer than he did in the first game in Detroit.
Cook takes the challenge of facing an opponent's biggest receiver seriously.
"They tell me that all the time, that's why they drafted me – to cover those big guys like Calvin and Larry Fitzgerald and Vincent Jackson and all those big guys. Brandon Marshall, of course he came to our division this year," Cook said. "I feel like that's what I'm here for, so when it comes time for those games I feel like I have that little bit more, that little extra, of whatever it is you get before a big game. I enjoy playing against Calvin all the time anyway. I played against him in college, so the competition goes up and I feel like my level of play goes up, especially when I play against Calvin and those big guys. Especially when somebody has a lot of hype I want to make it a point to show people that I can have that hype too."
Cook has missed the last three games because of his broken right arm, but because of the timeframe of his healing and rehab he has a target date for his return. It just happens to coincide with Vikings' date with another of the NFL's elite big receivers – Houston's Andre Johnson (6-foot-3, 230 pounds).
Through 11 games, Andre Johnson already has 69 catches for 1,058 yards and is averaging 15.3 yards a catch. Ten days ago, he had 14 catches for 273 yards against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"When I saw the schedule come out and I saw Houston on there, that was one of my target games anyway. Andre Johnson, as corner you have to look forward to playing Andre Johnson. He's one of the best receivers in the league," Cook said. "If you can have a great game against him, then you can have a great game against anybody. That was my whole mindset when I saw Houston – that was the first person I thought about. Like I say: I've got Johnson and Johnson this year – Calvin Johnson and Andre Johnson. I was very motivated to get into the year once I saw our schedule and I saw all the receivers that we would have to face – Andre Johnson, Sidney Rice, Calvin Johnson, Jordy Nelson, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery."
Cook could have the opportunity to get back for that game because of a new rule in which teams can designate one player to return to the active roster off of injured reserve. When he was initially injured, he didn't even know about that rule, but he's glad it is in place now. All he wanted once he was injured was a chance to return.
"I talked to Rick Spielman the next day after my surgery and he was telling that they had the one spot to put (someone) on the IR spot to return and they chose me," Cook said. "That definitely helps a lot knowing that they put me on IR to return instead of just regular IR when I'm just doing nothing for the rest of the year. It helps keep me focused on what I have to do and what steps I need to take to come back from this injury."
The real disappointment for Cook was that his injury occurred at a time when he felt he was finally starting to reach his stride in the NFL after injuries and legal matters marred his first two seasons.
He said he was having his best year since his senior year at Virginia, a performance that attracted the Vikings to him as a second-round draft pick.
Since entering the NFL, he has never lacked in confidence. That hasn't changed, despite the bumps. So what is separating him from the best cornerbacks in the league?
"People recognizing, I guess," he said. "As players, we don't really have a lot of say in who's talked about or who is mentioned among the best players in the league. It's really the media and the fans recognizing that somebody's a good player. All I can do is let my play speak for itself and just go out and lay it on the line every week. If they want to mention me among the best, then I'll be mentioned among the best, but I don't really worry about it because I know I can play. I know when I step between the lines it's me and that guy in front of me and he's got to prove to me that he can beat me."
He's hoping to start facing those challenges again in less than a month.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Cook targeting big target for return
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