EAGAN, Minn. -- Chuck Foreman knows plenty about the history of Vikings running backs, and he likes what he sees with the current group.

Foreman was a Minnesota running back from 1973-79, and made five Pro Bowls. He has remained in the Twin Cities since his retirement, and running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu invited him to have dinner last Wednesday, June 12, with Vikings backs at Andiamo Italian Ristorante in Eagan and offer advice.

“This might be the best group of running backs from top to bottom that the Vikings ever have had in my opinion,’’ Foreman said. “I don’t know who they’re going to keep but what I do know is all of them are NFL material.’’

Minnesota’s group starts with Dalvin Cook, who might be ready to break loose after two injury-riddled seasons. After that, there is Ameer Abdullah, who has had two 500-yard seasons with Detroit, promising third-round pick Alexander Mattison and Mike Boone and Roc Thomas, who both showed flashes last year as rookies. The fullbacks are incumbent C.J. Ham and undrafted rookie Khari Blasingame.

“Wednesday night, I said (to Cook), ‘Man, it’s time for you to go the whole next level,’’’ Foreman said. “I asked him if he was ready for that and he said, ‘Yeah, I’ve been ready. It’s just that I’ve had some bad breaks.’’’

As a rookie in 2017, Cook was lost for the season in the fourth game with a torn ACL. He missed five games last year with hamstring issues, but still rushed for a team-high 615 yards.

Cook said after Thursday’s conclusion of spring drills he is fully healthy and “back having fun.’’ Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said Cook had a “really, really good spring’’ and spoke of some of the other backs.

“Boone and Roc Thomas, and Mattison, they’re all still learning,’’ Zimmer said. So, we’ve got some work to do but I think C.J. Ham’s had a nice spring.’’

During his dinner with the running backs, Foreman talked about making a commitment because the NFL is such a “short-term gig,” and he was impressed with their serious demeanor. He told them about some advice he once got from hall of fame running back Jim Brown to avoid unnecessary wear and tear.

“He said one thing a running back has to know is when to go down,’’ Foreman said. “And that’s not to quit. But when you can’t go any further, you got to go down and come back another play. When it’s third and one, that’s different. But when you’re out the field and you got 10 guys coming at you, it’s time to go down.”

More Vikings extensions?

With the Vikings clearing $4.075 million of salary-cap room while extending Kyle Rudolph’s contract, they now have money to lock up additional players.

Minnesota has $4.687 million of cap space after Rudolph last Tuesday signed a four-year, $36 million extension, which included lowering his 2019 cap number from $7.625 million to $3.55 million.

Before reaching agreement on a deal with Rudolph, the Vikings had started preliminary extension talks with defensive end Stephen Weatherly, entering the final year of his contract. Two other key defenders, cornerbacks Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander, have expiring contracts and could be candidates for extensions.

“I’m not thinking about that,’’ Waynes said. “I’m worried about this season.’’

Waynes will make $9.069 million in the final year of his deal. His agent, Brian Murphy, also represents Rudolph.

“That’s his job,’’ Waynes said of contract talks. “I’m going to do mine on the field.’’

Smith back to Big Easy

After tight end Irv Smith Jr. was selected in the second round of April’s NFL draft, he gazed at the Vikings’ schedule. He liked what he saw.

Minnesota opens the preseason Aug. 9 at New Orleans. That is the rookie’s 21st birthday and he will return to the city where he was born and starred at Brother Martin High School.

“It’s crazy how the universe works,’’ said Smith, who played at Alabama. “It’s a blessing. I’m going to be 21 and I’m going to get to play in my first game during my birthday.’’

Smith’s father, Irv Smith Sr., was a Saints tight end from 1993-97. He’s looking forward to seeing his son catch some passes at the Superdome, where he had many of his 183 career receptions.

“It’s pretty amazing,’’ said Smith Sr. “It’s going to be a huge homecoming. So many friends and family will be there.’’

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