Heading into a 17-game season, Vikings’ Dalvin Cook says he’s ‘got to train a little harder’

Before last season, Vikings running back Dalvin Cook set a goal of gaining 2,000 yards from scrimmage, and he almost certainly would have reached it had he not missed nearly 2 ½ games.

Cook rolled up 1,918 yards from scrimmage despite missing one game and nearly a full half of another with a groin injury and sitting out the season finale at Detroit due to the death of his father. He finished with 1,557 yards rushing and caught 44 passes for 361 yards.

In 2021, the NFL will have its first 17-game season. So it should be easy for Cook to get to 2,000 yards, right?

“I won’t say it’s going to be easy but it’s up in the air to get, but that extra game is valuable,” Cook said this week during organized team activities.

With an extra game this season, one might think Cook has set some lofty statistical goals. Perhaps 2,000 yards rushing? To do that, Cook would need to average 117.6 yards per game, not all that much more than the 111.2 he averaged in the 14 games he played in 2020.

Cook, though, insists he’s only thinking about team goals entering 2021.

“I want to make the playoffs,’’ said Cook, whose Vikings fell short of that with a 7-9 record in 2020. “That’s my goal.’’

For the Vikings to accomplish that, Cook likely will need to stay healthy for much of the year. And heading into a 17-game campaign, he knows he will have to take care of his body perhaps like never before.

“It’s hitting the weight room a little bit harder,’’ Cook said. “It’s doing the little things a little more. … It’s a longer season for everybody, so you have to do things a little smarter, you got to train a little harder. I think that’s going to be the key: Who takes care of their body the best. I’ve been setting myself up pretty good and putting good people around me to take care of my body.’’

Cook has had injury issues throughout his career. As a rookie in 2017, he missed the final 12 games due to a torn ACL. In 2018, he sat out five games with hamstring issues. In 2019, he missed two games and nearly two full halves of two others with shoulder and chest injuries.

Last year, Cook missed his least amount of time in any season due to injuries. One reason was due to all the work he had done in the offseason.

“My first couple of years I got banged up and it was, what can I do a little different to not get put in that situation again?’’ he said. “Focusing on those little muscles, you know, focusing on the things that you think that don’t matter. I knew I had to get stronger.’’

Now, with the 17-game season, Cook looks to be even more focused on his training.

“I’m feeling good,’’ he said. “I’ve been busting my tail all offseason trying to get ready. … I’ve been lifting pretty good.’’

Cook, though, has been careful not to overdo it.

“(There’s been) a lot more recovery (work),’’ Cook said. “I always thought lifting weights and just trying to get stronger and build the muscles up was the thing. But you’ve got to let your body rest sometimes and you’ve got to let things calm down and get restarted and refreshed.’’

There was some concern last season about Cook’s workload. He had 312 rushing attempts and 44 catches for 366 touches.

Gary Kubiak, Minnesota’s offensive coordinator in 2020, said in a radio interview with KFAN with five games left that Cook was ‘just beat up.” Kubiak retired after the season, and was replaced by his son, Klint Kubiak, and he was asked this week about Cook’s usage.

“Our strength staff (is) monitoring their workload in practice every day with the GPS tracker, so we’re aware of his touches, we’re going to manage them,’’ said Klint Kubiak. “We also want to get him plenty of work because like all players they need repetition to improve. So we’ll definitely monitor them and make sure come the season that he’s hitting his stride then as opposed to right now during OTAs.’’

If Cook indeed is hitting his stride during the regular season, he certainly could put up some gaudy statistical totals in a 17-game season. He could become the second 2,000-yard rusher in team history, following the 2,097 Adrian Peterson gained in 2012. And 2,000 yards from scrimmage could be a cinch even if Cook insists it won’t be easy.

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