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Updated: August 26th, 2010 7:14pm
Pelissero: Ready or not, rookie Chris Cook has shot at starting job

Pelissero: Ready or not, rookie Chris Cook has shot at starting job

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- Chris Cook's chance to start for the Minnesota Vikings may be coming more quickly than anyone expected.

Including Cook.

The Vikings' decision to move their top draft pick from left cornerback with the second string to right with the starters in practice this week confirms Cook will have every chance to beat out Lito Sheppard and Asher Allen over the final two preseason games.

This, from a somewhat raw 23-year-old who missed minicamp with a hamstring injury and was relegated to the third string when training camp opened less than a month ago.

"I was very hopeful," Cook said after practice on Thursday of his chances to be in this position.

"I was just being humble and just biding my time, just trying to get on the field anywhere I could. It coming this fast -- I wasn't really expecting it, because I do have a lot of veterans in front of me. I was using this year for a learning experience. (But) hard work pays off, and I'm in a position right now where I get an opportunity to play with the ones."

It took all of three days for Cook to flash in camp. He picked off three passes in one practice and was on the rise from then on, repeatedly using his size (6-foot-2, 212 pounds) and long arms (32½ inches) to beat up and best a depleted receiver corps.

Most striking has been Cook's seemingly better-than-advertised speed -- he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds at February's scouting combine -- and ability to adjust to the ball in the air. He's also quelled quiet concerns about his willingness to tackle.

Yet it took roughly 30 practices and two preseason games for the Vikings to move Cook from the left side, where he was serving as an insurance policy for veteran starter Antoine Winfield, to the wide-open competition for replacing disabled Cedric Griffin on the right.

"We're worried a little bit about the footwork" on the right side, coach Brad Childress said. "I think he's done some OK things over there."

Asked specifically if Cook has made enough progress to have a legitimate chance at winning the starting job, Childress said, "He's made a lot of progress, yeah. Whether we in fact decide to do that, we'll just have to see. But he's done some good things."

The difference between Cook and his competitors is he has rare physical traits. He's so long some NFL teams scouted him as a safety and so athletically gifted -- he posted a record 11-foot broad jump at the combine -- his stock soared after a strong Senior Bowl week.

Teams that were wary of Cook cited his concerns about his work ethic and communication skills. So far, neither has proven to be much issue.

"I've always been a confident guy," Cook said. "Without confidence, you're nothing."

And the Vikings were confident enough Cook can play immediately they were willing to part with veteran nickelback Benny Sapp on Wednesday, leaving them with only four healthy corners who will make the roster.

Sheppard, 29, earned two Pro Bowl nods in his prime and has by far the most experience.

Allen, 22, has drawn praise for his growth throughout his first full NFL offseason.

Cook isn't as quick and doesn't have the flexibility to play inside. There also remain concerns about how his youth will show up if teams start game planning to attack him.

Sheppard and Allen combined haven't made as many plays as Cook, though, nor do they have the rookie's size.

So, even if he doesn't take over by the opener Sept. 9 at New Orleans -- a possibility Cook says he hasn't thought about -- he certainly seems to be on track for a significant role sooner than later.

Is Cook ready to start in this league?

"Only will time will tell," he said. "Once the lights come on and that whistle blows for the first kickoff -- we'll tell then."

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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