Dalvin Cook: 'I'm going to come back better than ever'

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Dalvin Cook was in the midst of a breakout rookie campaign when he went down with a season-ending ACL tear in Week 4. He was among the league leaders in rushing yards (354) and had one of the heaviest workloads among all running backs. It led to him breaking several of Adrian Peterson's records, including yards in his rookie debut and the amount he racked up in his first three games.

Today, Cook is focused on reaching smaller milestones as he recovers from the surgery performed by orthopedic specialist Dr. James Andrews in October to repair his injured left knee.

Cook spoke to the media for the first time Thursday since he went down against Detroit. Having never dealt with a knee injury in the past, Cook wasn’t sure about the sensation he felt after cutting to avoid a defender in the fourth quarter of that game.

“It was kind of a funny feeling,” Cook said. “I knew something was wrong, but it just wasn’t hurting. I kept telling the trainer, ‘I’m good. Ain’t nothing wrong with me.’ But the next day it got stiffed up. I knew something was wrong and we took care of it.”

Cook says he’ll soon be at the point where he can set goals for himself, like a target date to start testing the strength of his leg, when he’ll be able to go through a full workout, etc. Right now, his benchmarks are simpler, like getting rid of his crutches last week and getting back into the weight room.

“I was kind of dead [after lifting], but at the end you feel great,” he said. “I’m around these guys. I feel like I’m back into it, like I never left.”

Cook’s locker is situated next to Teddy Bridgewater's. The fellow Miami native endured over 14 months of rehabilitation from a dislocated knee to get back on the practice field last month. The support he’s provided the young rookie has helped him through the ups and downs of his recovery.

“The process here will challenge your manhood,” Cook said. “Teddy used to call me every day when I had my surgery down in Pensacola.

“He’s been through it. Just to have him in your corner when you’re going through tough times like this. [Even] if he didn’t go through it, he still knows the right stuff to say to you to get you through the whole process.”

In choosing to do his rehabilitation in Minnesota, Cook has been able to spend time around Sam Bradford, who was moved to IR last week with a knee injury, and see a different side to the reserved quarterback.

“It’s crazy because you hear Sam say, ‘Down, set, hike’ or call the play, but just to sit there and have a conversation with him, because Sam is a quiet guy ... is good,” he said. “It ain’t good for the both of us to be on the table, but it’s good having conversations with him, just to chat with him.”

Cook’s ACL tear is among a long list of season-ending injuries to top NFL players. Seeing the devastating injuries to those other players -- from Odell Beckham Jr. to Richard Sherman and J.J. Watt to fellow rookie Deshaun Watson -- provides meaningful perspective to the career he chose.

"It’s what we signed up for,” he said. “That’s something I had to realize laying in the bed. It’s part of the game. You’re going to get through it. Game’s going to be here. I’m young. I’m going to heal up. I’m going to be back out there with my team as soon as possible.”

It’s still too early to lay out a timetable for his return, but one thing Cook isn’t worried about is being able to come back with the same speed and skills that made him an early standout. He relies on the guidance of his teammates, including Case Keenum, Latavius Murray and Jeremiah Sirles -- all of whom have recovered from a torn ACL -- for insight on how to best approach his rehab and the mental aspect of overcoming a major injury.

“Truly, in my opinion, I just think I’m going to come back better than ever,” he said. “It’s all about how you attack this thing. I just feel like it was a blessing in disguise. I probably needed a break from the hits I was taking in college, something like that. I use all this stuff as motivation.”