EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The dual subplot of Adrian Peterson making his first appearance for New Orleans and returning to take on his old team in Minnesota has encouraged an extra dose of buildup for this prime-time season opener.
If the Vikings were matched against another opponent, though, Dalvin Cook would undoubtedly be the recipient of a larger share of the publicity. There hasn’t been a rookie debut in Minnesota to create this much anticipation since Peterson himself first put on purple in 2007.
Ten years and two days later, Cook will take his place in the backfield Monday night to begin the process of trying to replace Peterson as the franchise running back when the Vikings host the Saints.
“He did a lot for this organization. With him coming back, I know everybody’s going to be hyped about it, and they’re going to be ready to play, and it’s going to be one of the best games of the year,” Cook said. “We’ve just got to be ready to go, which I know he is.”
Florida State’s career rushing leader in just three seasons, Cook fell to the Vikings in the second round of the draft because of concern about some off-the-field trouble in his past as well as a problem with fumbling.
He has entered the NFL at a decidedly different stage of the league’s evolution than Peterson, with those 30-carries-per-game grinders essentially extinct and many teams seeking the multi-skilled runner, blocker and receiver for a multi-player collective at the position. Their styles are different, with Peterson’s punishing between-the-tackles power and direct path to the contact not to be mistaken for Cook’s patient vision behind the line and outside burst to the open space. The Vikings have changed their blocking scheme, too, from man to zone.
“That’s going to be the key, to stay the course and be me,” Cook said. “Not try stick out and be anybody else. Just be me. Be the best version of me for my team.”
The comparisons to Peterson, the leading rusher in Vikings history, will be sure to follow him at least at the outset of his career.
“The offense that the Vikings are forming now, I feel he will fit in very well. He’s a smaller guy, but he’s tough. I’ve been able to see that about him as well,” Peterson said this week on a conference call with reporters in Minnesota. “I wish him nothing but the best, but Monday night I need him to have negative yards.”
Cook played on a big stage often with the Seminoles, his quiet nature belying a coolness to match the moment.
“Dalvin is a pretty confident player,” coach Mike Zimmer said, “and his skill set has shown the same thing.”
The Vikings have frequently this preseason called Cook a quick study.
“He can do it all, and I think he’s a special player,” fellow running back Latavius Murray said. “He’s grasped the offense very well and fast, and he’s able to go out there and play fast. That’s hard to do for anybody that’s transitioning to the NFL or coming in as a young player.”
Peterson is expected to share the load with Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara. Cook could have more of the carries to himself, but he’s hardly the only option for offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur.
Murray, whose arrival in free agency after four years with Oakland signaled the end of Peterson’s tenure in Minnesota, topped 1,000 yards rushing for the Raiders in 2015 and tallied 12 touchdowns in 2016. Jerick McKinnon, who will serve as the kickoff returner, has experience and elusiveness.
“It’s all on Pat, so just roll with it,” McKinnon said. “Whoever’s in the game, let’s make some plays.”