Chris Cook's advice to rookie on top wideouts? 'Let me handle them'
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"Just let me handle them," Cook said this past week in an interview on 1500 ESPN.
Cook laughed after he said it, but he wasn't entirely joking.
Though he has struggled to stay on the field in his three NFL seasons, Cook has rare physical traits (6-foot-2, 212 pounds, 32½-inch arms) for the position and has had some of his brightest moments against the likes of Detroit star Calvin Johnson.
Now, entering the last year of his rookie contract at age 26, Cook knows the value of his next deal will depend on whether he stays healthy -- and whether he can consistently make an impact against opponents' top receivers.
"I'm looking forward to coming back if that's in the cards, and I definitely would love to stay here," Cook said. "It's a contract year, but I'm not playing for a contract. I'm just playing for a good year and playing for this team."
Whether the Vikings decide to shadow Cook on the big bodies of Johnson (6-5, 236), Chicago's Brandon Marshall (6-4, 230) and Green Bay's Jordy Nelson (6-3, 217) depends in part on the development of Rhodes, the soft-spoken first-round pick (25th overall) out of Florida State.
Rhodes profiles as a press corner, thanks to his size (6-1, 210) and 33¾-inch arms, and defensive backs coach Joe Woods said last month he believes the addition could allow the Vikings to become more aggressive with mixing in man coverage.
"I definitely know we're going to play a lot more press coverage, because we have two big guys on the outside now," Cook said. "Coach (Leslie) Frazier likes those type of guys on the outside. Everybody seems to like bigger guys on the outside now, and it's because of the big receivers now."
The release of veteran Antoine Winfield left Cook as the oldest cornerback in the room, even though he's been limited to 22 regular-season games by knee injuries (2010), an arrest on a domestic violence charge of which he was acquitted (2011) and a broken arm (2012).
He joked that's the reason he went back to school this offseason to continue his anthropology studies at the University of Virginia, even though he has no idea what'd he do with the degree once he gets the nine remaining credits (all in Spanish) he needs to graduate.
"I just felt like it was something that would keep me grounded, just to keep me from doing too much partying -- too much of stuff that I didn't need to be doing," Cook said. "It's definitely helped me focus, kept me in one place, not traveling all over the place, having something to focus on definitely helped me out."
Cook recently rejoined his teammates for Phase 2 of the Vikings' offseason program. He received a $1 million roster bonus in March and is due $630,000 in base salary on the final year of the deal he signed as a second-round draft pick (34th overall) in 2010.
He said he's serious about drawing the assignment of shadowing top receivers, though that's always a game-plan decision and he was complimentary of Rhodes, too. ("I'll just tell him, 'Play technique,'" Cook said. "Don't be star-struck when he sees those guys.")
No matter how the roles evolve, Cook doesn't buy the notion the Vikings' cornerbacks will struggle after Winfield's departure, despite the fact they're relying on a young group topped by one veteran who has missed more games than he has played so far.
"I definitely don't see that being the case this year," Cook said. "We've got a lot of young, hungry guys. We put in a lot of extra time and we communicate very well and we spend a lot of time together bonding. ... I don't think we'll be what people think we'll be. I think we'll be probably, most definitely a top secondary this year."