One of the recurring storylines of the 2013 season has been the injuries in the Vikings secondary. Three of the team's opening-day starting defensive backs – Harrison Smith, Chris Cook and Jamarca Sanford – have all missed time due to injuries.
The good news for the Vikings is that, as they prepare for the Seattle Seahawks Sunday, two of those players (Cook and Sanford) will be back in the lineup after both returned to practice fully. They may need them more this week than most because few teams spread the ball around more in the passing game than Seattle. The Seahawks have seven players with double-digit receptions, but nobody with more than 41 (Golden Tate). Seven different players have caught touchdown passes and five of them have averaged more than 14 yards per reception.
Cook believes that preparing for a team like Seattle is more difficult than preparing for a team like Dallas with Dez Bryant or the NFC North rivals. At least with those teams, you know who is going to be targeted with passes. In Seattle, there's no such guarantee.
"It's actually a little easier if you come into a game with a pretty good idea of who is going to get the ball thrown his way a lot," Cook said. "When you play Detroit, you have to account for Calvin Johnson on every play. The same goes for Brandon Marshall in Chicago. (Seattle) spreads the ball around a lot. It just keeps everyone on their toes. You can't just go to sleep if you're on the weak side of the defense. A team like that reinforces the point of playing assignment football, doing what you're supposed to do and being ready on every play because you never know when the ball is coming your way."
While Cook will be on the field Sunday barring a setback in his recovery from a hip injury, he feels the worst part of his injury history is watching helplessly from the sidelines as opponents throw passes that he's convinced he could break up. It's not a new situation – Cook hasn't played all 16 games in any of his four NFL seasons – but it doesn't make it any easier the next time and it's not the kind of thing an athlete ever gets used to.
"It's a difficult situation," Cook said. "Earlier in the year I said, as athletes, we try to take care of our bodies as best we can. But sometimes things don't go the way you want them to go. You might have some nicks or injuries here or there that hold you out. It's been tough for me, but I've had a lot tougher things happen to me since I've been in the NFL. It's something you have to deal with and roll with the punches. Injuries happen. Football is a violent game and you just hope they don't happen to you. Unfortunately, I've had more than my share of those types of injuries."
Cook has a difficult time watching the game from the sidelines because he's constantly questioning whether or not he could have prevented a play. In no way is he diminishing the talents of a teammate, but he has a lot of confidence in his own game and the numbers tend to support that feeling. Last year, the Vikings played the Lions twice. In the game Cook played, the Vikings contained Calvin Johnson for the entire game. In the game Cook didn't play, Megatron went off for 200 yards.
Cook wishes he wouldn't be on the sidelines, because the pain of watching his teammates get lit up in the passing game is a hard pill to swallow, especially when he believes he could have changed that outcome.
"When I'm not in there and I see plays that go to my side that I know I have the ability to make, it does bother me because I know I could have been in there and made that play," Cook said. "We have guys that are more than capable of making plays when somebody goes down. It's something that has to be done. That's the life of an athlete, but it's painful to be on the sideline when you want to be out there making plays for your team and you see plays that you're confident you could have made."
There are times when Cook has wondered if there is a dark cloud hanging over his NFL career. He has a passion for the game, but, as the injuries he has sustained continue to pile up and he misses time, all he can do is be philosophical about it.
"I've come into each season looking to play all 16 games," Cook said. "This year, I was asked in training camp if I had any goals. My only goal was to play 16. Obviously, that's not going to happen this year, but I hope there will come a time when I look back on this and say, ‘It's been a long time since I've missed time during a season because of an injury.' That hasn't happened yet, but hopefully it will."
On Sunday, Cook's consecutive games streak is reset at one. He's hoping it will be the first game of a long stretch of game-day health that will extend for years to come.
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.