If the last two games are any indication of what’s ahead for Chris Cook’s career then we may have a star on our roster. So good that Cook just might be the Vikings best defensive player not named Jared Allen.
Cook has had the difficult responsibility of primarily covering the best wide receiver on each opponent. So far this season it’s been Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams, Calvin Johnson, Dwayne Bowe and Larry Fitzgerald – no small names there. Only Bowe (5 receptions, 107 yards and a touchdown – note however Bowe’s longest 52 yard reception he was covered by Cedric Griffin) and Johnson (7 receptions, 108 yards and 2 touchdowns) have came away with big games. Yet, even on Johnson that game is an average performance for the Lion’s wide receiver in 2011. Freakish to the point Johnson is debatably the best player in all of football for 2011.
Watching tape of Cook he’s done an excellent job getting his hands on wide receivers during press coverage and throwing them off their route. When not jamming at line his backpedal has also been solid where he’s been astute recognizing the route and not allowing his assignment much space. It’s fair to wonder if quarterbacks are intimidated by Cook’s 6’2” frame and look away from him. After all, Kevin Kolb targeted Early Doucet 16 times, whereas Fitzgerald was only targeted 8. Leslie Frazier also complimented his tackling abilities to say, “We knew he could cover, but he’s tackling better. That’s what we need in our scheme.” That’s certainly true coach. While Cook is never going to be your heaviest hitter, he does use his long arms to his advantage bringing down ball carriers.
Frazier and defensive coordinator Fred Pagac also deserve much credit for putting Cook on opponents’ biggest wide receivers. All of Jackson, Williams, Johnson, Bowe and Fitzgerald are 6’2” or taller. Cook’s struggled in the past with smaller quick-footed wide receivers, such as Green Bay’s Greg Jennings (who’s 5’11”) who routinely burned Cook last year at Lambeau Field. It’ll be interesting to see what’s ahead for match-ups later this month in Jennings and Carolina’s Steve Smith. Most likely Antoine Winfield will draw those assignments, assuming he’s healthy. But for now let’s celebrate the fact we have a 24-year-old in a premium position who’s coming into his own.
Jon Merckle may be followed on Twitter @thevikingpig