Notebook: Chris Cook doesn't feel 'far off' from ending INT drought
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- For a three-year veteran without an NFL interception, Chris Cook sure is around the ball a lot in the Minnesota Vikings' organized team activity practices.
He had tight coverage on the first two balls thrown his direction in Tuesday's first team (11-on-11) period, then intercepted an underthrown go ball from Christian Ponder to Jerome Simpson to end the starting offense's hurry-up drill.
"I know that I don't have (an interception), but I really don't think about it," Cook said. "As long as I'm out there, I'm not giving up plays, so that's a positive thing."
Sidelined often by injuries and off-field issues, Cook has played in only 22 regular-season NFL games. He missed six last season because of a broken arm but still led the Vikings with 14 passes defended.
"I don't feel like I'm that far off," Cook said. "It's a game of inches. A breakup can turn into a pick off 2 or 3 inches. I feel good about my game so far, where it is, and I'm just focusing on the little things and just keeping the ball rolling."
There were plenty of opportunities to make plays on Tuesday, with the first-string offense struggling to get in rhythm. Cook's performance was reminiscent of several others he's had in practice, dating to his three-pick effort on the third day of his first training camp in 2010.
"He's always practiced well and done good things in practice, and he's played some good games for us as well, but just the consistency and keeping him on the field (has been an issue)," coach Leslie Frazier said. "It's always good to see him making plays, no question about it, but now carry it over to the games and do it over the course of an entire season.
Cook did give up a go ball from Ponder to Simpson after his interception, though it appeared Smith should have been in better position to help on the play.
"I felt good (Tuesday)," Cook said. "The past two days I've been feeling good and I've just been focusing on technique and I can feel it paying off. I can definitely feel it paying off."
Backup quarterback Matt Cassel was 9-of-13 passing. McLeod Bethel-Thompson was 2-of-6 and James Vandenberg 1-of-1. Practice ended with a series of "one play to win" scenarios, with Ponder converting his opportunity on a jump ball to Rudolph against linebacker Erin Henderson.
Felton looking to improve
Jerome Felton climbed another rung on the list of the NFL's highest-paid fullbacks on Tuesday, when the Baltimore Ravens cut Vonta Leach.
Felton signed a three-year, $7.5 million contract in March -- including a $2 million signing bonus -- to continue leading the way for reigning MVP Adrian Peterson. Only Philadelphia's James Casey ($4 million), Leach ($3,666,667) and San Diego's Le'Ron McClain ($2.75 million had a higher average per year than Felton's $2.5 million.
"It feels good," Felton said. "It's not about the pressure that it used to be, but it's about being the best. All the stress, all that stuff is gone. Now, it's about working hard."
Felton bounced around three different teams in 2011, ultimately landing with the Vikings where he signed a one-year, $750,000 contract last March. He turned a one-year tender into a Pro Bowl season, providing leading blocks for a running back who fell 9 yards short of breaking the NFL's single-season rushing record.
"Anytime you come off a Pro Bowl year, more is going to be expected of you," Felton said. "I understand that and I'm looking forward to that. I don't want to be the same player I was last year. I want to be a much better player."
Sherels not worrying
Marcus Sherels isn't fazed by the Vikings collecting potential alternatives on punt returns and at cornerback in the first round of April's draft.
"It's just more competition," said Sherels, the Rochester native and ex-Gopher. "It'll make all of us better."
The Vikings drafted receiver Cordarrelle Patterson and cornerback Xavier Rhodes as two of their three first-round picks. Patterson figures to compete for the starting punt return job, and Rhodes has potential to settle into a starting role at cornerback as a rookie.
Sherels' only sure spot on the field last season was on punt returns -- where he muffed two, losing one in the playoff loss to Green Bay. And he struggled as a backup slot corner, allowing quarterbacks who threw his way to earn a 118.8 rating on 15 throws.
"I just need to work on catching punts every day," Sherels said. "But I'm focused on wherever they want to put me."
Sherels worked alongside Patterson on Tuesday during kick returns -- Patterson got the first rep -- and said there's plenty they can learn from each other.
"I'm excited to work with him," Sherels said. "Good player, real athletic, real sudden."
"(Peterson and I) have a good relationship," Gerhart said. "But it's been difficult as a competitor to not get the reps or consecutive carries. My time will come."
Gerhart finished 2012 with career lows in touches (50 carries, 20 receptions), yards (324 combined) and touchdowns (one). He's due $630,000 in the last year of his rookie contract.
"It's definitely been a thing of patience," Gerhart said. "Everyone said, 'Don't let it get to your head. You're backing up the best in the game.'"
"All though OTAs we've been doing it," Fusco said. "Since John's out, it's good to have that flexibility."
Fusco, starting right guard, played center for four years at Division II Slippery Rock.
• Frazier confirmed CB Jacob Lacey, who underwent surgery last week to repair a dislocated thumb, should be ready for training camp. Lacey watched Tuesday's practice with his left arm in a sling.
• PK Blair Walsh was 6-for-8 from between 38 and 50 yards in a team field-goal period, missing wide left from 40 and 45.
• Rhodes intercepted Cassel off a deflection in a 7-on-7 passing drill.