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Keeping Vikings’ Dalvin Cook fresh in 2021 starts in offseason – Minnesota Vikings Blog



EAGAN, Minn. — Three months stand between now and the Minnesota Vikings game-planning how to wear down defenses, but they are thinking ahead to when they will need to call on running back Dalvin Cook to pick up where he left off from his career-best season.

Cook, 25, rushed a career-high 312 times for 1,557 yards (5.0 yards per carry), was first in total yards (137) and touches (25.4) per game and second in touchdowns scored by a running back (17) and touches (356) in 2020.

History has shown running backs who handle such a heavy load in one season often decline the following year. It happened with the Carolina Panthers’ Christian McCaffrey last season after notching 403 touches in 2019. The same goes for former Houston Texans running back Arian Foster the season after his stellar 2012 campaign (391 touches). Backs from Terrell Davis to Eddie George to Jamal Lewis have experienced injuries or a loss of effectiveness after a heavy usage season.

Cook’s threshold isn’t as high as those who fall under the “Curse of 370” category, but the Vikings are being deliberate with their intent to preserve the star they signed to a five-year, $63 million extension in September 2020.

That means monitoring his workload — such as limiting reps in OTAs, minicamp and training camp — so they can run the offense through him for 17 grueling weeks.

“… he’s got an unbelievable [running backs] coach, Kennedy Polamalu, who’s always tracking those things,” Vikings offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak said. “Our strength staff (is) monitoring their workload in practice every day with the GPS tracker. So we’re aware of his touches, we’re going to manage them, but you also want to get him plenty of work because like all players, they need repetition to improve.”

Cook’s first three seasons were shortened due to an ACL tear as a rookie, a hamstring injury that limited him to 10 games in 2018, and wear and tear that kept him out of two games in 2019. Cook sat out Week 6 last season due to a groin injury but still managed to put up numbers that entered him into the MVP conversation at one point.

Part of Cook’s ability to stay on the field and be productive last season was due to changes he made to his routine, especially in the offseason. That includes knowing when to pull back and when to hold down the throttle.

“I’m feeling good,” Cook said. “I’ve been busting my tail all offseason trying to get ready. For me, it’s all about staying patient. I want to play football right now. That’s how my body feels.

“What I added to my game, it’s really nothing. It’s being a better teammate for me. Helping my younger guys get better. We have a young team, and me stepping up and being who Dalvin Cook is, and not stepping outside of the box and being nobody else, and being Dalvin Cook and helping guys get better — helping guys get comfortable. I think that’s going to be the best way this team goes where we want it to go.”

Part of that comes with Cook taking on an increased leadership role, so other backs like Alexander Mattison, Ameer Abdullah and rookie Kene Nwangwu can benefit from how he has learned to care for himself.

“That’s something I didn’t have as a younger guy was a routine to get my mind and body ready to go every week,” Cook said. “Or get ready to go for practice or anything. I didn’t have a routine. That’s what I try to tell the young guys. While you’re young, try to get a routine going so you can get yourself going. I think naturally once you get a routine going, your mind clicks, your body clicks, and everything gets going.

“So now I’m in year five, and I’ve got a routine for everything I do and how I want to do it. Like I said, the people I’ve got around me know how I want things done. And I think that’s important. Your body just naturally responds to it, and I think that’s the point I’m at right now.”

Cook has added more recovery to his regimen every year since being drafted in 2017. Training in the weight room is a key component of any athlete’s offseason program, but there are specific things running backs must do to prepare for a heavy workload.

“My first couple of years I got banged up and it was, ‘What can I do a little different to not get put in that situation again?’” Cook said. “Focusing on those little muscles, focusing on the things that you think that don’t matter. I knew I had to get stronger. Not like any bodybuilder stuff, but I just went in there, hit a couple extra reps, squatted more, focused on my legs more.

“That was all for me. My speed was out there on the field, just getting faster and more explosive was key for me. It wasn’t anything special I did in the weight room, I just attacked it a little harder.”

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Green Bay Packers QB Jordan Love ‘definitely’ ready to start Week 1 if needed



GREEN BAY, Wis. — Watch Jordan Love one day and he will look miles away from being the Green Bay Packers‘ starting quarterback. Come back the next day and he will look ready right now.

Such was the case for Love’s first two days of the team’s mandatory minicamp — its first without camp holdout Aaron Rodgers. How does that bode for Love’s chances if he has to start the regular-season opener Sept. 12 at New Orleans should Rodgers’ tenure with Green Bay be finished?

Love said he will be ready.

“A hundred percent,” Love said when asked if he is prepared to be the Week 1 starter. “Obviously, this is a time where I’m getting a lot of extremely valuable reps that I might not have been getting in a normal circumstance. So I’m just going to take it day by day. … But yeah, that’s what I’m here for. I was drafted here to play quarterback, so I’ll definitely be ready Week 1.”

The Packers’ 2020 first-round pick, the one they traded up to get and therefore start the clock on Rodgers’ eventual end in Green Bay, sure looked ready on Wednesday.

One day after he struggled with accuracy and completed barely more than half of his throws, Love shined.

It started with a 30-yard pass down the right sideline to running back AJ Dillon and got better from there. There was a Rodgers-like free play for a 45-yard deep ball to Allen Lazard, a deep corner route dropped perfectly into the hands of wide receiver Juwann Winfree for another 30-yard pickup and a carbon copy of the Dillon throw to Aaron Jones for another 30.

Love was so hot with his throws that at one point tight ends coach Justin Outten pretended to use his play card as a fan to cool off the quarterback.

“Listen, you can never get too high and never too low in this game,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said after practice. “One of the biggest emphases for Jordan is just to treat each play as its own entity. We’re always grading the decision-making, the timing, the accuracy, and we want to see the consistency just continue to get better and better.”

Love completed 20 of 31 passes during 11-on-11 periods Tuesday, including 7-for-10 during a drill-winning two-minute drive that he capped with an 8-yard touchdown pass to an outstretched Lazard in the back of the end zone.

LaFleur continued his practice of giving Love most of the work. Rather than dividing reps with Blake Bortles and Kurt Benkert, LaFleur has allowed Love to stay on the field for long stretches. During one period Tuesday, Love took 16 straight snaps. His longest stint Wednesday was 10 straight plays.

This after Love took only minimal reps last year as the third-string quarterback.

“Every day is a new learning experience,” LaFleur said. “And when you have limited reps and you weren’t getting the bulk of the reps all throughout the course of the season — and this is never an excuse; it’s just reality, right? There [was] no preseason [last year], so there’s just a ton of learning that’s going on.

“It’s great to see when he does have success because again that will build the confidence, and that’s really what we’re looking for. But also, it’s everybody else around him, too. When they’re playing at a high level, it makes that guy’s job a lot easier.”

The crash-course approach is LaFleur’s insurance in case Rodgers continues his holdout into training camp and beyond.

Love admitted that he doesn’t know what to expect from Rodgers and said he was “just as surprised as you guys” that Rodgers skipped minicamp.

By all accounts, Rodgers and Love forged a strong working relationship last year even though Rodgers admitted that Love’s arrival likely changed the way he envisioned his career would end. In fact, Rodgers said last month on SportsCenter that his issue has never been with Love but rather is about an organizational philosophy he believes has strayed from its foundation.

Love said he has stayed in touch with Rodgers throughout the offseason; in fact, they spoke shortly before Love arrived in Green Bay for OTAs last month but declined to reveal the specifics of their conversation.

“I’ve just been living my life, man, trying to do what I can do to get better in this offseason and obviously not knowing what’s going to happen next,” Love said in his first session with team reporters since Aug. 20. “My main thing’s been controlling what I can control and do my best to get better every day so that I’m ready whatever the circumstance may be come [the start of] the season. Just do my best to be ready for myself, for the team and for everybody here.”

Love said that would have been his approach whether Rodgers was around or not.

This way, however, he’s getting a whole lot more work.

“My mindset this whole offseason’s been to get ready, get myself ready, and that’s been my mindset since I got here,” Love said. “Whether Aaron was here or not here, that’s going to be my mindset regardless, because I have to get myself ready to play and be able to go out there and take charge of the team and be able to perform at a high level and do my best so everybody else can do their jobs as well and just be able to perform at a high level.”

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Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott ready to move on, says he has ‘buried’ ankle injury



FRISCO, Texas — After going through organized team activities and two days of the Dallas Cowboys‘ mandatory minicamp, quarterback Dak Prescott pronounced himself back from a dislocated and compound fracture of his right ankle that forced him to miss 11 games in 2020.

“I’ve buried the injury,” Prescott said after Wednesday’s practice. “Honestly, guys, you know me, from the point of practice, from the point of just moving forward and going about my life, I’ve buried it mentally. And I think you guys and a lot of people around have to help me in burying it as well as we move forward.”

Prescott can even pinpoint the exact day he got past thinking about his ankle.

“Had a good Cinco de Mayo, was a little active and at that time maybe did some little dance moves and I felt like I’m ready to go,” Prescott said. “So that was the time that I said in my head, ‘The injury’s gone.'”

Prescott suffered the injury in the third quarter of the Cowboys’ Week 5 win against the New York Giants on Oct. 11. He underwent surgery that night and a subsequent surgery in December that was unrelated to the dislocation.

While Prescott’s rehab went well, he still had to see what he could do on the field during the offseason program. He was kept out of only 11-on-11 work so he would not have to deal with defenders or offensive linemen falling into his legs.

“Just knowing that I could do all the different drops, get away from pressure when I need to,” Prescott said. “I’m sure you guys see the scramble drill that we’ve done a few times. That was a big one for my confidence, just being able to pivot and turn out left, get out to the right, change directions, not feeling anything and then look at the tape and realize day by day that I’m running more smoother, I’m getting better, I’m using my legs more when I throw. Those are just all building blocks and steppingstones for me to get where I want to be. It’s just exciting.”

On Tuesday, Mike McCarthy said he anticipated Prescott to take part in every portion of practice once training camp starts in July, but the team will be smart and listen to the quarterback if he needs a day off or to cut back on some work.

Prescott said any next-day soreness he experienced earlier in the offseason has subsided.

“I think the first couple of days we were also on the turf, maybe that played a part in it; doing more true just more drops and football movements than I have in the rehab part of it,” he said. “From the first week of even teaching sessions to now, I left practice, will leave today, hopefully no soreness, no residual swelling or anything like that. I say that because with all that gone and none of those effects, that’s what allows me and helps me bury it, to be honest with you guys. I don’t even think about it before practice, pre-practice, but still doing all the necessary things and being smart that I am still only seven months away from the injury.”

Prescott was given a recovery period of four to six months at the time of the injury. Teammates marveled at how he attacked his rehab even after signing a four-year, $160 million contract earlier in the offseason. He has been a regular at The Star for rehab and workouts, while also continuing to work with his personal quarterback coach. He will continue to throw to receivers and running backs before training camp begins while only taking a small breather.

“Whether that’s training here, training with our guys or heading out to California and getting some more positional work,” he said, “I’ll do all the things necessary to, as I said, be the best I can be heading into camp.”

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San Francisco 49ers end offseason program after pair of injuries



SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Two days after losing a pair of contributors to season-ending injuries during organized team activities, the San Francisco 49ers are calling it an offseason.

Coach Kyle Shanahan announced Wednesday that the Niners will not have any more OTAs and are canceling their full-team minicamp, which was set to run June 15-17.

Shanahan said the minicamp cancellation was planned before the injuries, though he did cancel a planned eighth OTA in part because of them.

“We’re totally done,” Shanahan said. “My plan was to get eight and then I was going to surprise them on Thursday and take everyone bowling, but after our seventh practice with those two injuries and just the aura it gave to it, I wasn’t going to come back and do one more just to do one more. So I surprised them on Day 8 instead of Day 9.”

Although the 49ers completed just seven of a possible 10 OTA sessions, Shanahan was pleased by the turnout. At one point, only defensive end Dee Ford wasn’t in the building, as he continues to rehab a back injury.

“Having 89 guys here and getting seven OTA practices in, I felt great about it,” Shanahan said.

On Monday, the 49ers lost offensive lineman Justin Skule and safety Tarvarius Moore to a torn ACL and torn Achilles, respectively. Shanahan said those injuries came in a three-play span.

Those injuries, along with running back Jeff Wilson Jr.‘s torn meniscus suffered May 20 in the team locker room after a workout, come on the heels of the 49ers’ injury-ravaged 2020 season in which they lost 161.6 games to injury, the second most of any team in the past 20 years, according to Football Outsiders’ adjusted games lost metric (which also factored in players missing games for COVID-19 reasons).

The repeated injuries to starters and key players left Shanahan and general manager John Lynch vowing to seek answers for their health problems this offseason. That included some tweaks to their draft grades, which added greater emphasis on durability, and signing free agents who have been available to play more often than not.

That doesn’t necessarily mean training camp will take on a vastly different look, Shanahan said.

“We are always reevaluating things and doing things,” Shanahan said. “I’d say we change every year a little bit. To sit and say we’re going to do training camp differently because someone got hurt getting out of a chair, because someone got hurt on air and a person hurt his knee playing football, it would be pretty irresponsible of me and extremely reactionary. Just try to do what’s right for our guys and do it the safest way as possible.”

Asked how he can find a balance between keeping players healthy and getting them in football shape, Shanahan noted that the Niners had four players suffer serious injuries last offseason when they were away from the facility. He also pointed out that an abbreviated training camp helped players get to the season healthy but didn’t seem to help them stay that way when the games began.

“One thing I do know, just being around it for 19 years, you have got to play football in order to get ready for football, and the more football you play, the better you are and the longer that you can do it,” Shanahan said.

The 49ers are scheduled to start camp July 31. Shanahan said the Niners plan to do joint practices with the Los Angeles Chargers in the week leading up to their Aug. 22 preseason meeting.

As for how COVID-19 restrictions will affect the team, Shanahan said 52 of the 91 players on the roster are vaccinated. That is well short of the 85% necessary for teams to conduct business in a manner closer to what they did before the pandemic, but Shanahan is hopeful the 49ers will get to the 77 or so vaccinated players needed before camp begins.

“It’s a different decision for everybody, especially religious reasons,” Shanahan said. “… I’m just hoping that we do it because I don’t want to have to wear my mask in here anymore and I want to be able to have team meetings in our normal meeting room and be able to hang out with each other when we go on the road to hotels. So hopefully that will work out.”

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