EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. As the Minnesota Vikings' season slipped away last year, cornerback Chris Cook was on the outskirts, listed on the team's roster but nowhere to be seen.
Following a domestic abuse-strangulation charge in October, he was suspended by the Vikings then curiously reinstated but told to stay away from the team's facilities while his legal issues were pending. He ended up playing six games, starting three times. In two seasons since being Minnesota's first pick of the 2010 draft (34th overall), he has played only 12 games.
After he was acquitted of all the charges in March, Cook was free to re-join the team, and the Vikings gave him his second chance at an NFL career, choosing to stick by the embattled cornerback instead of releasing him.
Freshly shorn, with his long dreadlocks exchanged for a close shave, Cook, 25, returned last week to Winter Park, ready to prove himself to his coaches and teammates.
"I feel like I have to earn their trust again," Cook said Wednesday after working out as part of the beginning of the team's offseason program. "I definitely let them down last year by being in the situation I was in and missing the 10 games. I'm really looking forward to earning their trust and being a contributing factor to the team."
An active member on Twitter, Cook has often shared his frustration on the social media site. He has expressed that he wants to be a better man and is ready to put that chapter of his life behind him. He knows the incident will stick with him though, at least for a while.
"I won't say it's closed up because I can never replace those 10 games that I missed," Cook said. "It was hard having to sit out for the 10 games, and it's something I always think about. It's not something that I can just put away, even though I'm back in this setting, this environment, it's still something I have to deal with."
Cook was eager to get back with his teammates when offseason workouts began April 23. He arrived early, first working out at Winter Park on April 20, and his teammates have noticed a change.
"You can tell he's trying really hard," Christian Ponder said. "You know, we all make mistakes, and obviously that was a tough situation that he put himself in. But I've talked to him. We've all talked to him. It seems like he's learned, and he's such a great asset to have on the field. I think he's going to be fine. He's going to do everything he can to earn the respect of all of us. He's working hard. We see that. We definitely notice that for sure."
Cook's absence was felt in the secondary, as opposing quarterbacks racked up a 107.6 rating against the Vikings in 2011, the second-worst in NFL history behind that of the winless 2008 Detroit Lions. Quarterbacks completed 68.2 percent of their passes despite Minnesota posting a league-high 50 sacks. The Vikings also tied a franchise record low with just eight interceptions.
After the release of Cedric Griffin, Cook will enter training camp as a projected starter for the first time in his career. Minnesota is counting on Cook as much as ever despite his not being around the team for more than six months.
"We've had extensive conversations, and for him it's going to be an ongoing process of just indoctrinating himself back with his teammates, back with the coaches," coach Leslie Frazier said during the draft. "But everybody is willing to give Chris an opportunity to show that he's deserving of this opportunity. So we'll see what happens."
The wait was a difficult one for Cook.
"I was just going day to day," he said. "I never really knew what was going to happen, when it was going to be over with or what decision the organization was going to make. I was always hopeful that they would keep me around and give me a second chance."
Cook didn't hear much from teammates during the time away, saying, "I don't think they wanted to have too much contact with me because of the legal situation."
Frazier was in contact with Cook at times, and Cook said the coach has been a positive influence and very supportive. He hopes his teammates come around as well.
"Generally, they watch me when I'm working out to see how hard I'm working," Cook said. "There's not really too many words coming out. I feel like they're just watching me to see what I can prove to them."
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