On a team that doesn't have an extraordinary amount of holes to fill, the Vikings were looking for a player with their first pick of the draft to be something different than they already have. Virginia cornerback Chris Cook fits that description to the letter.
Cook has some intriguing intangibles, the most pronounced being his size. At 6-2, 212, he is built more like a safety than a cornerback. However, he has been assured that he will be used on the outside as a cornerback, where his height, long arms, leaping ability and speed can come into play. He said he going to come in and learn from the veterans the Vikings have in place and fill whatever void needs filling.
"I'm looking forward to the opportunity to learn from veteran guys like Lito Sheppard, Cedric Griffin and Antoine Winfield," Cook said. "I'm looking forward to adding to an already good defense and try to make it better and try to get to a Super Bowl – get those two wins they need to win a Super Bowl."
Cook's arrival to the Vikings was far from assured after some academic problems at Virginia. His college career was derailed in 2008 when he was suspended for the season, but his career has been marked by interruptions. As a true freshman in 2005, he suffered a broken right leg in his first start. In 2007, he missed two games due to a sprained left knee and was later suspended for academics for the Gator Bowl to close out the '07 season. That, combined with losing his 2008 season, had some wondering if Cook would ever realize his full potential. He said the 2008 season was about as bad as it could get.
"2008 was one of the most trying times of my life," Cook said. "I was lax in the classroom and I wasn't doing my job and completing all my tasks. I paid the price for it and had to sit out. It was a very difficult time for me, but I had a lot of strong people behind me – a good support system with my mom, my brother and my family. They helped me stay focused and helped me get back into school and do what I had to do."
Unsure of his future in 2008, Cook got a job at Sears loading appliances into and out of delivery trucks. It was a low point in his life, but something he knew he could overcome because football was more than a just a way to earn a big paycheck. It's a passion of his.
"I was always set on getting on the football field and doing what I do," Cook said. "I love this game and it killed me that I had to sit out a year. I won't say it benefited me, but I feel it made me a smarter person and a stronger person having to deal with that situation."
His comeback was impressive when he returned to the Cavaliers' lineup last fall. He was an All-ACC cornerback and a team captain voted in by his teammates. He made an impression at the Senior Bowl practices, but had a mixed blessing at the Combine. While his 40 time (4.45 seconds) and his vertical jump (38 inches) were impressive, his seven reps of 225 pounds in the weightlifting aspect was something he didn't expect. He said he was unprepared for the grind of the Combine week and discovered he had torn ligaments in his shoulder, which dropped him from a personal-best 17 reps in the UVA weight room to just seven at the Combine, but felt the rest of the week went well despite being an emotional wreck who was overwhelmed by the process.
"My nerves were terrible at the Combine," Cook said. "I wasn't expecting that whole experience to be as trying as it was. I was just expecting it to be a few meetings here and there, but it was early mornings and late nights. I finally did get on the field to show my skills. Everything else was fine for me except for the 40. People were telling me that I was going to run 4.6 or something like that, but when I got up there, my heart just started racing and, after my first 40, I ran a (4.45). I calmed down a little bit and just ran."
With his future looking bright as the newest member of the Vikings secondary, he has drawn comparisons from head coach Brad Childress to a young version of defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, who visited with Cook on campus and liked what he saw. He left making a strong impression on Cook and he hoped the feeling was mutual. As it turned out, it was clear the admiration went both ways.
"I figured they had their radar on me and I was hoping I was going to go (to Minnesota)," Cook said. "When I saw they traded out of the first round, I wasn't really sure what pick they had in the second round. When I saw it was the second pick in the second round, I thought, "O.K., hopefully my phone rings and it has that Minnesota area code.' I was just excited. I've been nervous all day and excited at the same time – a lot of mixed feelings going on today."
While Cook isn't expected to compete for a starting job immediately, he said he's coming to the Vikings with the expectation of doing everything that is asked of him and that the reward will follow. He sees the Vikings as a perfect marriage of scheme to his individual skills and says he hopes to continue the recent tradition of strong Vikings defenses.
"They flock to the ball," Cook said. "When I watch those guys, a lot of them have an attitude about them that's like, ‘You won't beat on this play or the next play.' I feel like those are the types of guys that I need to be around. Guys like Lito, Ced and Antoine Winfield, those (are) guys that I feel like I need to be around, that can teach me the things about the game that I don't know from the professional aspect because I'm just leaving college."
While he comes in as an understudy, it is the hope that, while the Vikings waited longer than usual to lock down their first pick of the draft, Cook can be one of the young building blocks that will be able to step in and continue the Vikings defensive improvement – whether it is immediately or for years into the future.
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.
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