Vikings superstar running back Dalvin Cook handled 356 touches in 2020, an average of 25.4 per game that led the NFL. For a player who missed over half of his first two seasons to injury and still has yet to play more than 14 games in a season, that type of workload raised questions.
Heading into 2021, with a 17-game season, should the Vikings monitor Cook's workload early on in order to keep him fresh and available for the entire year?
So far, it's been business as usual. Cook has 50 touches through two weeks, putting him on the same pace he was on last season. After a somewhat slow Week 1 in which he managed 104 yards on 26 touches, Cook was his peak self against the Cardinals this past Sunday. He racked up 148 yards on 24 touches despite not having a single gain of more than 16 yards. Eight of his touches went for ten-plus yards, and nine of them resulted in first downs.
However, he was slowed in the second half by a couple minor injuries. Cook already had 103 yards when he was popped on the first play after the first-half two-minute warning and picked up a stinger, which is a fairly common injury to the nerves of a player's neck or shoulder caused by awkward contact.
Cook stayed down for a bit after the hit, mostly due to confusion. That was the first time he'd ever experienced something like that.
"It was kind of unusual," he said. "I've been playing football since I was four, that was my first stinger. I was laying like that because it was different for me, because I didn't know whether I should get up, I didn't know where it was coming from."
The Cardinals scored on the first play of their next possession, meaning the Vikings' offense didn't have much of a break. But Cook was back out there and ripped off a ten-yard run on his next carry.
"It goes away, and you play football," he said.
Then, in the fourth quarter, Cook got banged up again. This time, it was a "little ankle sprain," as Mike Zimmer described it after the game. He was clearly affected by it the rest of the game, struggling to make cuts with the same quickness and burst that he usually has.
This isn't anything new to Cook, who deals with tons of contact every game by nature of the position he plays. He might be limited a bit in practice this week, but he doesn't seem worried about not being available for a huge game this Sunday against the Seahawks.
"It was one of them games," Cook said. "Physical game, knew what we was getting ourselves into. Just was one of those, but I think we did a pretty good job. I know I play running back, I'm gonna get banged up. But the recovery is key. I'm in the training room a lot with the conditioning coach, just getting to it, trying to get my body back up. I'm good."
Through two games, Vikings backup running backs Alexander Mattison and Ameer Abdullah have played a combined 32 snaps to Cook's 106. They have just seven touches to Cook's 50.
Even though the Vikings want to be cognizant of Cook's workload in an effort to have him out there for all 17 games, they know how much of a game-changer he is. Mattison and Abdullah are good players, but the dropoff in ability when one of them is on the field is significant. Cook is a special player who is one of the engines of the Vikings' offense.
Plus, Minnesota's backs are already against the wall. They're 0-2 with the Seahawks and Browns coming to U.S. Bank Stadium the next two weeks. They need to get in the win column, and Cook is going to be a huge part of that.
“You know, at this stage, it’s time to get some wins," Zimmer said. "Dalvin’s a tough guy. If he can’t play, there’s a reason why he’s not playing. But he makes us go, so we’re going to continue to play him."
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