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Cook excited to face former mentor

Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) on the sidelines in a Dec. 30 game against Chicago Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium. Brad Rempel / USA TODAY Sports

EAGAN, Minn. -- Dalvin Cook is eager for Sunday afternoon’s game at U.S. Bank Stadium, and not just because it will mark his season debut. When the Vikings take on the Atlanta Falcons in a noon kickoff, it also will be a chance for him to play against his former mentor, Devonta Freeman.

Both players came up through Miami Central High School, and Cook remembers as an eighth grader looking up to Freeman before ultimately following in his footsteps to play at Florida State and in the NFL.

“We have a unique relationship, just the same upbringing and the same background,” Cook said,

More than anything, Cook stressed how Freeman provided the blueprint on how to get out.

“We saw Devonta make it from the neighborhood,” Cook said. “He gave a majority of us hope back home that it was possible to make it to college and possible to make it to the league and live our dreams. I followed behind him and tried to do everything he did even better.”

It will mark the first time Cook and Freeman have played on the same field, and while Cook said it was “smiles and giggles” last week as both players talked trash about Sunday’s game, communication is now minimal.

“I’m definitely not going to talk to him this week,” Cook said. “It’s time to compete.”

Three-headed monster

It was always going to be interesting to see how the Vikings replaced longtime punt returner Marcus Sherels, and it doesn’t sound as if they have settled on an answer.

“We have three guys that can do it,” special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf said.

Those would be Chad Beebe, Ameer Abdullah and Bisi Johnson.

“Everybody kind of has their own areas of the field. We will kind of play it by ear,” Maalouf said. “It just depends on where we’re at in the game. It’s kind of hard to predict that.”

In other words, the Vikings could use three different punt returners this weekend.

“There’s a good chance,” Maalouf said. “You hopefully graduate to a position where maybe one guy does the majority of it. As for now, I think it’s important we take advantage of all the talent that we have and get those guys on the field depending on the situation.

Injury update

Stefon Diggs (hamstring) returned to practice Thursday afternoon and according to the injury report participated on a limited basis. He was spotted running routes during the portion of practice open to reporters.

Cornerback Mike Hughes (knee) was the only other player that was limited.

Other players on the injury report: Kentrell Brothers (wrist), Everson Griffen (elbow), Brian O’Neill (elbow), Linval Joseph (shoulder) and Mackensie Alexander (hamstring). All were full participants.

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