EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – Chris Cook was back on the Minnesota Vikings practice field bright and early Wednesday, resuming the football workouts that he was unable to do during a long and messy trial on charges of domestic assault.
Cook may have been welcomed back to the Vikings after being acquitted in March of all charges of assaulting his girlfriend, but he knows the process of assimilating himself back into the team he was forced to abandon last season is just beginning.
A valuable cornerback and former second-round draft pick, Cook played the first six games last season before he was arrested and charged with two felonies in connection with a fight with his girlfriend. The Vikings suspended him for two games, then had him sit out the eight remaining games while the legal process played out, leaving Cook to collect paychecks while his teammates suffered through a miserable 3-13 season.
"I feel like I have to earn (my teammates') trust again," Cook said on Wednesday after participating in a voluntary workout with the team. "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."
Unlike practice squad running back Caleb King, who was cut Monday just three days after he was arrested — but not charged — in connection with the beating of a man at a birthday party, the Vikings stuck by Cook, who has a history of trouble dating back to academic problems in college at Virginia. Cook was also arrested in 2011 for allegedly brandishing a gun during an altercation in his hometown, but he was found not guilty in that case.
In his most recent case, Cook argued self-defense in the altercation with girlfriend, who said that Cook strangled her. Once he was acquitted, Cook was allowed to return to the team and was not disciplined by the NFL.
"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 isn't the only Vikings player trying to prove himself this week. Newly signed receiver Jerome Simpson will be suspended for the first three games of next season after he pleaded guilty in April to a felony charge after authorities said 2 pounds of marijuana were shipped to his Kentucky home last year. Simpson was sentenced to 15 days in jail, 200 hours of community service and fined $7,500.
The Vikings said they researched his background thoroughly before signing him to a one-year deal. Simpson admitted to making "a poor choice" and knows he's on his second chance.
"It's absolutely a 'prove it' (season) just because the nature of that I did get in trouble last year and I have to prove to the league, myself and everybody else out there that I deserve to be in this league," Simpson said.
Despite the legal issues hanging over his head all of last season, Simpson has the best season of his four-year career. He caught 50 passes for 725 yards and four touchdowns and will be relied upon to give the Vikings the vertical threat they sorely lacked.
"The guy's unbelievable," quarterback Christian Ponder said. "I was throwing post routes and trying to overthrow him and I couldn't. The guy is so fast. He's so athletic. I think he's going to be a great asset to our X position. And he's a great guy. I've been hanging out with him. He's real down to earth and so athletic. We're happy for him to be a part of this team, for sure."
Cook has been trying to let his actions do the talking. He's been a fixture at workouts as he tries to show his teammates that he is committed to turning things around.
"You can tell he's trying really hard," Ponder said. "We all make mistakes. Obviously that was a tough situation that he put himself in. I've talked to him. We've all talked to him. He seems like he's learned. He's such a great asset to have on the field. I think he's going to be fine. He's doing everything he can to earn the respect of all of us and he's working hard. We see it in him."
The Vikings certainly could use the 6-foot-2 cornerback on the field in a division dominated by big receivers — Calvin Johnson in Detroit, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey in Chicago, tight end/receiver hybrid Jermichael Finley in Green Bay. The Vikings ranked 26th in the league in yards passing allowed last season and gave up an NFL-worst 34 passing touchdowns.
Cook thanked coach Leslie Frazier for being "very supportive of me" and said he's happy not to have to worry about his future any longer.
"I was just going day to day. 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," he said. "I was always hopeful that they would keep me around and give me a second chance."
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