EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Since he came to the Minnesota Vikings in 2010, Chris Cook hasn't been able to deliver on the potential that led the team to spend the 34th pick of the draft on him. He was suspended for the second half of 2011 because of a domestic assault charge, and when he has been with the team, he's struggled with injuries and missed chances to turn passes into interceptions.
What happened on Sunday might serve as a fitting microcosm of Cook's career in Minnesota, as well as an indicator of why he's in danger of missing out on a chance to earn a big contract when he hits free agency this spring.
Cook felt a twinge in his knee during practice last Friday when he was getting ready to converge on a receiver, and a MRI showed a bone bruise on his knee. Cook "struggled to get through that" when he worked out before Sunday's game, so the Vikings inserted little-used cornerback Shaun Prater in the starting lineup.
Prater, who made his first career start on Sunday, now has one more interception than Cook does in his career.
"They’re running kind of a deceptive play, sending a guy to the post," coach Leslie Frazier said. "[Prater] is a deep third defender. And he doesn’t follow the guy to the post. He knows that Harrison [Smith] is there, (and thinks) 'I don’t have to chase this receiver.' And there is DeSean Jackson coming up the sideline behind him. And rather than just following a guy he doesn’t have to cover, he's smart enough and aware enough to fall off and make a great play. Usually, that’s a guy who has been playing a while and has been in that situation a number of times and makes that play. But his awareness and his acute alertness of what needed to happen was impressive to see. He made some other plays too that shows you he’s a very aware guy and very smart football player."
As the Vikings are making determinations about their 2014 roster -- and trying to upgrade a secondary that has been terrible at creating turnovers -- situations like Sunday's are bound to factor into their evaluation of Cook. If Prater, who's barely played in their defense, is able to show a glimpse of playmaking ability, it calls into question why Cook hasn't been able to capitalize on at least a few of his opportunities. He's missed chances to pick off balls over his head on several occasions this year, and after the Bears' Alshon Jeffery plucked a ball over Cook's head two weeks ago, Frazier pointedly said Cook needed to intercept Josh McCown's pass. And on Monday, he again brought up the biggest issue with Cook: his durability.
"A big part of what we do is availability," Frazier said. "You can have talent but if you’re not available, that kind of negates everything that you’re trying to get done as a player and it really makes it tough for your teammates as well. I know he’s trying to get out there. He’s trying do the best he can to help our team. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to help us in this last ball game. Fortunately for us, we had some guys who stepped up and played well for us."