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Updated: May 19th, 2010 5:39pm
Pelissero: Chris Cook must answer questions about work ethic, role

Pelissero: Chris Cook must answer questions about work ethic, role

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Chris Cook's arrival in the NFL has been all about questions.

Several teams grilled the former Virginia cornerback about his dedication at February's scouting combine.

"I was just honest with them," Cook said on Wednesday. "Sometimes, I did get laid back. If the game strayed away from me, then I laid back and just relaxed, because I didn't see too much action."

At least one team wasn't sold on the answers, and Cook plummeted down its draft board.

"Good-sized guy, real talented," an NFC executive said, "but from a character standpoint, we were never truly comfortable with him in terms of his work ethic and communication skills."

Still other teams didn't know what to do with a 6-foot-2 defensive back who is more fast (4.46 in the 40-yard dash) than quick but also plays physically and possesses unique athletic traits (record 11-foot broad jump at the combine).

"We've seen him a little bit more as a guy at safety," an AFC personnel director said. "He's got the range to play in the back end."

No one questions whether Cook can play ball. The long arms and zone instincts Cook has to beat up receivers at the line and sink in Cover-2 convinced the Minnesota Vikings to draft him 34th overall.

Perhaps the most important question Cook must answer now is, how committed is he to reaching his potential?

Cook believes the biggest black mark on his college career -- becoming academically ineligible for what would have been his senior season in 2008 -- is the reminder he needs to keep working.

"It was the worst thing that's ever happened to me in my life," Cook said. "When it happened, I was just lost. I kind of went into a shell, just stuck to myself. After awhile, my mom just told me you've got to do something, so I got up, got a job and I started working back on my trade."

Barred from working out with teammates, Cook struck out on his own and kept his footwork sharp every day even as he inevitably fell out of game shape. He returned in 2009 with his best season, recording a career-high four interceptions, then emerged from the Senior Bowl as a fringe first-round pick despite somewhat raw skills.

"It was a big motivator," Cook said of the year off. "I didn't ever want to lose the game again."

And now he has a chance to keep it at the next level, although how he fits into the Vikings' plans this season depends largely on how quickly he develops.

The week of the draft, the Vikings signed former Pro Bowl pick Lito Sheppard to a one-year, $2 million contract that included $750,000 in bonuses. Depending on the health of Cedric Griffin -- whose uncertain status following postseason ACL reconstruction helped make cornerback the team's greatest offseason need -- there could be a three-man competition in training camp for the starting job opposite Antoine Winfield.

The early front-runner, Sheppard brushed off the implications of the Vikings using their top pick on Cook, saying, "We obviously need the depth in the secondary. I don't take it as anything other than just solidifying that position."

One of the players who doesn't start likely will become the No. 3 cornerback in the nickel package, although Sheppard never has played in the slot and Cook isn't an ideal fit there either.

"He doesn't have that kind of quickness," the AFC personnel director said of Cook. "You want to try to have him in press. Where he may get in trouble is if he's backed off and he's got to flip his hips and mirror and break on guys in open-field man (coverage)."

Veteran Benny Sapp and 2009 third-round pick Asher Allen also are in the mix at corner, leaving open the possibility Cook could become a candidate for safety down the line.

So, for Cook, the questions won't stop anytime soon. All he can do is try to come up with answers -- and keep working.

"I'm out here with some of the veteran guys, out here just seeing how everyone carries themselves during practice and in the locker room and leaders and stuff," Cook said. "I'm definitely starting to feel like I'm home."

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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