EAGAN, Minn. — For Dalvin Cook and the Minnesota Vikings, the final stage in the comeback has been completed.
Eleven months after reconstructive surgery on his left knee , Cook finished a regular season game without any setbacks. In case there were any questions about whether the Vikings would seek to ease him back into action, well, he was on the field for 80 percent of the snaps in the season opener.
“A lot of stuff to work on, a lot of stuff to get done in practice, but it was definitely a good start,” said Cook, who had 16 carries for 40 yards and caught six passes for 55 yards in Minnesota’s 24-16 victory over San Francisco and said he felt “great” afterward.
Drafted in the second round out of Florida State last year, Cook immediately elevated the offense with 444 total yards and two touchdowns before tearing his ACL in the fourth game of his rookie season. The quintessential modern running back who can contribute in the passing game as effectively as in the rushing attack, Cook’s ability to turn short throws by Kirk Cousins into first downs and longer will be integral to the scheme under new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo.
“Anytime we can get him in space, I think that’s a good thing,” coach Mike Zimmer said Monday.
Cook appeared every bit as agile against the 49ers as he was before his injury. On the first play of the second quarter, he showed a block before releasing into a pattern to catch a short pass and beat the linebacker to the edge for 17 yards on third-and-3 during the first touchdown drive for the Vikings. Cook began the next possession by making two defenders miss during a 15-yard reception that started in the flat at the line of scrimmage.
“I just heard so many things about how dynamic of a player he is, and until you really get out here in a real game it’s hard to truly tell,” Cousins said. “I saw for the first time how special he is as a running back.”
Even when he lost a fumble , Cook produced a highlight clip. He powered his way through six 49ers defenders on a basic run up the middle in the second quarter, before a diving tackle by linebacker Fred Warner forced the ball out at the end of a 15-yard gain.
“Sometimes there wasn’t anything there, but he ran hard,” Zimmer said. “The one ball he fumbled, that was going to be a great run.”
Cook had his uncle, Anthony Jones, on his mind during the game after the Florida International running back was wounded in a drive-by shooting in Miami on Thursday. Cook and Jones were raised together by Cook’s grandmother.
“Just going out there, competing, playing my heart out, that’s what he wanted,” Cook said.
Latavius Murray had 11 rushes for 42 yards, giving the Vikings a capable complement to — and an ardent supporter of — Cook.
“There was nothing I had to prove. I know the type of player I can be,” Cook said. “The Vikings know all the potential I’ve got. I just have to keep getting better every weekend, keep living up to it, which I am.”
The sturdiness of the offensive line will be critical for Cook’s ability to continue to produce the way the Vikings have envisioned. They had only seven healthy players Sunday, with center Pat Elflein and tackle/guard Aviante Collins inactive. Elflein is due back soon but wasn’t cleared yet for action following offseason ankle and shoulder surgeries. Collins injured his elbow in practice last week, and Zimmer announced Monday he will be out for the rest of the year.
To replace Collins, the Vikings signed guard Bryan Witzmann, who was released by Kansas City last week. Witzmann, who played in college at South Dakota State, started 13 games for the Chiefs last year. He’s been with five NFL teams since 2014.