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Vikings take steps toward restoring running game

EDEN PRAIRIE — Running plays by the Minnesota Vikings last season were largely unproductive endeavors, with an average of 75.3 yards rushing per game that was the lowest in the NFL in four years.

The Vikings have attacked their obvious offseason priority with the kind of aggression they’d appreciate after the handoffs take place on the field this fall. Head coach Mike Zimmer was all for it, despite his mind for and expertise in defense.

“I don’t care how we do it,” Zimmer said. “I don’t really want it to be 65-63, but I just want to win games.”

After signing tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers and running back Latavius Murray during free agency, while letting all-time leading rusher Adrian Peterson leave, the Vikings grabbed Florida State running back Dalvin Cook, Ohio State center Pat Elflein and Miami guard Danny Isidora in the draft.

“Being able to run the ball in the fourth quarter to win football games is important,” Zimmer said. “It allows your defense to play better. You can control the time of possession. You can control the flow of the game.”

Cook was lauded by his college coach, Jimbo Fisher, for his ability to read the field and set up blocks. He actually could help the offensive line, then, rather than simply benefiting from the work in front of him.

“I think that’s what a good running back is supposed to do,” Cook said, “and I think that’s what I did at Florida State.”

The Vikings had just seven runs last season that went 15-plus yards, only four by a running back, so they need to be better at controlling the line of scrimmage. Their attempt to do that has involved seeking blockers with a little bit of a snarl to them, and Elflein fit that bill. He has done his offseason training in the same Phoenix facility as fellow Ohio State alum Alex Boone, another player with a mean streak who’ll be next to him at left guard.

“He was a perfect fit for what we’re trying to get done,” general manager Rick Spielman said.

Here are some other takeaways from the weekend for the Vikings:

Familiar faces

Cook’s past includes some trouble with the law , but the Vikings are confident after extensive conversations with him and people close to him that his behavior and perspective have matured. Spielman said he believes Cook answered his questions openly and sincerely and that he’ll justify that trust by doing “all the right things.”

The presence of fellow Miami natives Teddy Bridgewater and Xavier Rhodes ought to help ease Cook’s transition to Minnesota and the league.

“They represent the Vikings in the right way, and everybody knows that Xav and Teddy are good people,” Cook said. “It’s good to be around those guys, learn from those guys, and learn how to be a pro.”