There is always a lot of pressure on rookies at training camp. Veterans that have been through the process for years know what they need to do in camp. Rookies have no idea. As a result, they push themselves very hard – whether a first-round blue-chipper or an undrafted free agent.
Chris Cook is no exception. Except instead of making rookie mistakes, Cook is turning heads with spectacular play after spectacular play. After looking solid in the Saturday evening practice, Cook outshined everyone on a hot summer Sunday afternoon practice at Mankato. He intercepted three passes during the full-team drills, including a pair of long attempts – pulling a Sage Rosenfels bomb away from Bernard Berrian and a Tarvaris Jackson deep pass intended for Greg Lewis.
"Today I was just trying to show my abilities and my deep-ball cover skills," Cook said. "I felt really good today. I came out loose."
Known for his size, Cook said there was a pre-draft stigma that he didn't have the deep cover speed to take elite receivers down the field. He said he never quite understood the knock against him because he has excellent playing speed. What some scouts say is the weakness of his game, he said he thinks it's a work in progress becoming a strength.
"I love running down deep balls," Cook said. "Even if they put (a throw) up high, I can jump a little bit. I can go up there and get it."
Cook is adjusting to the speed of the game extremely quickly. Very few passes thrown his way during the entire practice were completed. If he wasn't picking it off, he was knocking it down. While he admits he is feeling more comfortable, he realizes he is just hitting the tip of his NFL iceberg and has sought out the help of players like Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin, as well as defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and defensive backs coach Joe Woods.
"I won't say I'm at where I really want to be," Cook said. "But I feel like I'm getting better every day. Things are slowing down the more I watch film and the more I talk to Antoine and Ced and Coach Woods and Coach Frazier. Everything is slowing down every day."
Cook is not only being noticed by the coaching staff, which has given him rave reviews to date, but also his veteran teammates.
"He's going to be a really good player," Winfield said. "He has great size, great speed. He knows the defense already. He's a competitor. I'm looking forward to playing with him this season."
Cook said he's pleased with his performance thus far, but said he still has plenty of work to do and his 12 days of training camp are going to keep him hopping from the field to meeting rooms. While veterans can go through the motions and gradually work their way into game shape, Cook knows his days will start early, end late and have few breaks in between.
"I have to work a little harder," Cook said. "Me being a rookie, I'm going to have to play special teams and help out on defense wherever I'm needed on the field. It's just me coming out showing my skills and showing the coaches that they can trust putting me on the field."
With Griffin still sidelined following knee surgery to an injury suffered in late January, Cook is going to continue to see a lot of field time. His odds of making an impression go up with the more exposure he gets and he said he has taken on every play like it's live game action and the game is on the line.
"I've been working as hard I can," Cook said. "(I'm) going hard every play and not taking any plays off when I get the chance to be on the field."
So far, he's getting noticed, in a good way.
"He has made a variety of different plays down the field," Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "A lot of the time they say defensive backs are wide receivers that couldn't catch. He can catch, which is important because those are turnovers going the other way. You are seeing the length show up with his size, his reach and for being a tall guy he's got a pretty good drive. I think he'll continue to keep on developing."
His hot start is what Cook hopes will be just the first step in becoming a contributor to the Vikings. He said his confidence is growing with each day as his understanding of the defense continues and said days like he had Sunday only help bolster that confidence.
"It definitely helps out a lot," Cook said. "It makes me feel like I belong and I can play with anybody."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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