Mike Zimmer on Dalvin Cook's return: 'Just wanted him to get tackled'

MINNEAPOLIS -- Throughout the preseason, Dalvin Cook has maintained that there's nothing left to prove with his surgically repaired knee.

The time and effort he poured into his rehabilitation from a torn ACL over the past 10 months allowed him to cross multiple hurdles, he said, so once he finally got in a game, there would be no trepidation.

But there was one thing Cook, the Minnesota Vikings' second-year running back, had yet to do in order to pick up where he left off: get tackled. His preseason debut, which came in a 21-20 win over Seattle, provided him the opportunity to cross one last item off his to-do list before the regular season.

"I got banged up," he said. "I had to fight my way to get the first down. That definitely was a milestone. It felt good, too. My adrenaline was rushing. I was ready."

Cook's debut was limited to the offense's first drive, which yielded two carries for 1 yard and one pass thrown in his direction.

Though it was a small sample size, it was everything Cook needed to display before he is likely placed in bubble wrap ahead of the Vikings' opener against the San Francisco 49ers. Cook took several hits, was tackled and converted a third down.

The Vikings didn't create much of a sample size to gauge Cook's progress, and that was by design. Once Cook exited the game with under 13 minutes to play, he already knew his night was over.

"He didn't get much of a chance," coach Mike Zimmer said. "That was our plan all along. Let him carry once, maybe catch a pass or carry it twice. We just wanted him to get tackled. Not much there in the running game."

For the first time since Oct. 1, 2017, Cook got to go through his normal game day routine. Warming up on the field, suiting up in pads and running out of the tunnel with his teammates were moments he'd waited to experience for months.

"I was excited," Cook said. "Nerves come with any football game, but I was more excited. I had to calm myself down more than anything. I was ready to play. I was just excited."

Cook said he feels fine physically, but getting over the mental setbacks was one of the hardest parts of his rehab. He said he feels "a step ahead" of where he was last year, which stems from not taking these moments for granted.

"Cherish this thing, man," Cook said. "Cherish the game. I was laying in my bed a lot of nights just wondering, just thinking. You never know with the whole situation. Cherish the game while you got it. Everything with your teammates, this locker room right now, this interview, you cherish it, because it goes real fast."

Cook watched the Vikings rush for 147 yards against Denver and 128 yards against Jacksonville, two games in which the offensive line impressed with its ability to come off the ball fast despite constant shuffling of personnel due to injury.

Cook said that seeing how Latavius Murray, Mike Boone, Roc Thomas and Mack Brown ran the ball in his absence impressed him.

"It just goes to show if you put a good running back back there, he can make everything right," Cook said. "Our running backs are doing good things right now in the preseason, we just got to continue those things over in the regular season. Right now we're running the ball really good, we're seeing the holes really good, and the rookie running backs, they're running the ball real good."