Yes, it remains most likely that Cook will settle in as the starter once he returns to game action following surgery last October for a torn left ACL. In the meantime, Murray is at least keeping it interesting.
In Minnesota’s 42-28 at Denver in the preseason opener Saturday, Aug. 11, Cook worked out before the game, but the Vikings opted not to use him. So Murray played the first series and carried four times for 43 yards, including two 21-yard scampers.
“We’re here to compete against each other and that’s what I’m going to do,” Murray said of continuing to push Cook for the starting job. “I’m going to leave it up to the coaches to make that decision who plays or whatever but we both want to compete and make each other better and help this team win.”
Cook rushed for 354 yards last season and was putting himself in contention for NFC Offensive Rookie of the Year honors before going down in the third quarter on Oct. 1, 2017, against Detroit.
Murray barely played early last season while recovering from ankle surgery before taking over as the starter from Cook and finishing the season with 842 yards rushing. Now, Murray has entered the preseason with no health issues.
“It feels good to be healthy and that’s the first thing,” he said. “I believe in myself when I’m healthy. I believe I can go out there and do good things.”
Murray certainly did that in 2015, when he rushed for 1,066 yards for Oakland and made the Pro Bowl.
Murray said one key to his continued success is a solid offensive line. Even though the Vikings were without three injured starters in the opener, Murray liked the way the line looked.
“The holes were huge,” Murray said of his two 21-yard runs.
The Viking ran the ball well all night, gaining 147 yards.
In the battle for to be the No. 3 back behind Cook and Murray, Mack Brown had 34 yards on 11 carries, Roc Thomas 29 yards on eight attempts and Mike Boone carried 12 times for 22 yards.
Thomas also caught three passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns.
‘A dream come true’
Vikings rookie kicker Daniel Carlson really wanted to show off his big leg Saturday night at high altitude.
He got the chance.
In the third quarter, Carlson drilled a 57-yard field goal. It’s the second-longest preseason boot in Minnesota history after the 58-yarder that Marshall Koehn made last year.
“It was fun,” said Carlson, who grew up an hour down the road in Colorado Springs, Colo. “We weren’t sure whether we were going to punt it based on the game, but Coach (Mike Zimmer) was asking if we could kick it, and we told him, ‘Let’s go for it.’
“He sent me out there and put some trust in me. Obviously, it was fun to have an opportunity like that and be able to help the team in that way.”
Carlson, taken in the fifth round of the draft last April out of Auburn, is battling Kai Forbath for the job. For the first preseason game, Zimmer elected to have Forbath handle kickoffs and Carlson all extra-point and field-goal attempts.
Carlson made both of his field-goal attempts, the other a 39-yarder in the second quarter. He made all four of his extra-point attempts.
“It definitely was a dream come true,” Carlson said. “Obviously, I’ve worked a long time for this moment right now, and to get to do it in my home state and have all my friends and family there and just have a performance like I did, where I made all my kicks, it was a perfect way to go out on it.”
Carlson, though, still has a long way to go. Forbath is expected to get his chance to kick for points in the second preseason game, next Saturday against Jacksonville at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Sloter comes through
The Vikings waited a long time for Kyle Sloter to play in a game, and he delivered Saturday.
The third-string quarterback completed 9 of 11 passes for 69 yards and played a part in two decisive late-game touchdowns against his former team.
Sloter had played in all four preseason games for the Broncos last year before being waived. He joined Minnesota’s practice squad in Week 1 and was on the 53-man roster for the rest of the season but never got into a game.
“He did a nice job,” Zimmer said of Saturday’s showing. “He threw the ball good, took care of the football.’
Sloter took over the second half with Minnesota leading 24-14. The Broncos came back to take a 28-27 lead before Sloter led the Vikings to the game’s final 15 points.
With 6:01 left, Sloter hit Chad Beebe for a 9-yard touchdown pass and then threw a two-point conversion pass to Jeff Badet for a 35-28 lead. With 3:06 left, Sloter scored on a 14-yard run for a 42-28 lead that put the game out of reach.
Despite the strong finish, Sloter said there is still room for improvement.
“I’m my own biggest critic,” Sloter said. “There are always going to be things that I’m not happy with that I did. Right now, it feels good but I want to get back and see some of the things that I could have done better.”
Now, Sloter hopes to stick around for awhile in Minnesota. He’s expected to make the 53-man roster as the third-stringer behind Kirk Cousins and Trevor Siemian.
“I feel like I’m in a good place,” Sloter said. “I love the players, ownership coaches, all that stuff, front office. It’s been a really good place for me. … I hope I get to be a Viking for a long time.”