The first Vikings fans got to know Ryan Cook was under less-than-ideal circumstances. In the weeks before the 2006 draft, the Vikings had traded Daunte Culpepper to the Dolphins for a second-round draft pick. It was hoped the team would use the pick on impact defender or speed receiver.
Instead, the team took Cook, who played center in college for New Mexico. The sound you heard from fans was silent with the faint hint of crickets chirping in the background. The next sound you heard was a resounding "Why?"
The confusion made some sense. After all, the Vikings already had a Pro Bowl caliber center in Matt Birk and at 6-foot-6, Cook was viewed as too tall to be an effective NFL center. Dumfounded fans simply shook their heads and viewed Cook as a wasted pick, especially in light of the fact that he was all the Vikings received in return for a franchise quarterback.
A year later, Culpepper is no longer with the Dolphins and their fans are the ones saying they got the raw end of the deal. Cook is now the Vikings' starting right tackle as well as backup center and looking to erase the tag of being the guy the Vikings got for trading Culpepper.
His rookie season was one of confusion and learning. He was told early on that his career likely wouldn't be at center, but at right tackle. He had a big learning curve to overcome, but quietly spent his time getting reps and making mental notes of his mistakes in an effort not to repeat them. The Vikings had their own problems on the right side. Mike Rosenthal wasn't cutting it and Marcus Johnson was very inconsistent. At the end of the season, having played in just three NFL games, Cook got the call and started the final three games of the season.
For him, the 2007 season is fresh start and, unlike last year, he's hitting the ground running this time around.
"During the offseason, I was able to get in a lot of work and film study," Cook said. "Last year everything was different. This time around, nothing was new. I was on the same page as the rest of the guys and wasn't trying to catch up. I was up to pace from the first day of the offseason."
While he started the final three games of the regular season, he wasn't assured of a starting spot. Head coach Brad Childress had him competing with Johnson for the starting right tackle spot, saying that the competition between the two of them would bring out their best – a sentiment Cook agreed with.
"Marcus and I were fighting for the job all offseason and through training camp and the preseason," Cook said. "I thought that the competition brought both of our play up to a higher level. There are no problems between Marcus and me because we both know we need to be ready to play to help make the team better – regardless of which one of us is starting."
Among the primary objectives this season for Cook are to provide protection for inexperienced quarterback Tarvaris Jackson and open running lanes for running backs Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor. While some observers think Peterson and Taylor have different running styles, as someone who has blocked for both, Cook said Taylor doesn't get his due for how quickly he can hit the hole – something Peterson has received praise for.
"The blocking doesn't really changed that much," Cook said of the blocking schemes when Peterson and Taylor are interchanged. "Chester doesn't get enough credit. He's pretty explosive too. We just need to open holes for them – both of them will find them if we do."
As he settles into his new role as the starting right tackle, Cook knows that he's under the microscope among many NFL observers. It is almost universally felt that the left side of the Vikings O-line is among the best in the league with Bryant McKinnie, Steve Hutchinson and Matt Birk lined up alongside one another. But the right side of Cook and guard Artis Hicks has been the subject of a lot of scrutiny. They're viewed as the clear weak link of the line – something Cook says doesn't bother him. By the end of the year, he said, that won't be the case.
"I don't take it personally when people say Artis and I are the weak part of the line," Cook said. "I use it as motivation. When you hear that you're the weak link on the line, it gets me pushing harder to prove those people wrong."
He's proved skeptics wrong that said the Vikings got the short end of the Culpepper deal, so don't bet against him proving his critics wrong once again.
Cook Working to Prove Critics Wrong
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