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Dalvin Cook, Vikings excited about new staff, which is testing RB at receiver: 'Expect the unexpected'

It's a new era in Minnesota. New coaches, new general manager, and possibly new roles for at least two prominent Vikings.

Linebacker Eric Kendricks is enjoying the first weeks of playing under coach Kevin O'Connell, who has brought to the Vikings a change in leadership style that seems to be refreshing to the veteran defender.

"I'm real excited about the staff," Kendricks said, via the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "Everybody's been on board, everybody's been communicating very well. ... We have this amazing opportunity ahead of us again. ... Whatever happened last year is in the past and we have to move forward. We can learn from a lot of things, but we also have to adapt and change with the new year."

The new year is also bringing a bit of a change for Kendricks, who is adjusting from playing a 4-3 middle linebacker to a 3-4 inside linebacker under defensive coordinator Ed Donatell.

"Obviously, with the 4-3, you're gapped out most of the time and this and that," Kendricks said. "With the (3-4), it's a little more ambiguous at times. It allows you to make decisions on the run, make plays, run around really. I like it."

Kendricks isn't the only one with whom the new Vikings staff is testing different ways to deploy them. Running back Dalvin Cook might end up seeing more opportunities in the passing game, lining up in bunch sets as a receiver during OTAs, per The Athletic's Chad Graff.

It's fairly common to see bell cow backs catch passes and occasionally receive reps out wide during OTAs, when coaches have the luxury to test some things out before the summer break. And in today's pass-first NFL, getting a playmaking back increasingly involved in the passing game makes him that much more of a threat to opposing defenses.

Cook will enter 2022 with a new jersey number -- he's switching from No. 33 to his old Florida State No. 4 -- and potentially a new portion of O'Connell's and coordinator Wes Phillips' playbook to digest beyond his typical workload. He just won't reveal any details yet.

"We'll see. I don't want to sit up here and just tell y'all everything," Cook said. "We gotta wait and see. We got Green Bay Week 1, so we're gonna wait and see."

Reporters attempted to ask Cook about his receiver reps in a different manner by wondering if Cook was working on any new wrinkles he might debut in 2022.

"That's every year. I'm trying to get better every year," Cook said. "Seeing something new from Dalvin? Yeah. I'm working my tail off. I'm grinding, putting in all the work I need to put in. So, yeah. Expect the unexpected."

Cook has been slowly building toward such a role. Since catching 11 passes as a rookie in 2017 (in just four games), Cook has averaged nearly 43 receptions per season (3.28 per game). He hauled in a career-high 53 passes for 519 yards in 2019, but he's yet to make an impact in the passing game like some of his fellow NFC backs. Christian McCaffrey has recorded nearly twice as many receptions per game as Cook, while Alvin Kamara has caught 81 or more passes in each of his first four seasons (before dropping to 47 in 2021).

With a new regime in charge, it seems the Vikings are ready to enter the modern age of offenses -- and they're starting with attempting to maximize Cook's talents.

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