Sunday, June 22, 2014

Training Camp Position Preview: Running Backs

Daniel House has long-term worries about the future at the running back position behind Adrian Peterson. The backup job is up for grabs and he highlights the potential candidates that may supplant the MVP this season. 

Updated: June 22nd, 2014 12:28pm

By: Daniel House

Despite the addition of a new coaching staff, Adrian Peterson is still going to the be the biggest piece of the Vikings offense. He is still the top running back in the league and even if he is approaching 30 years old, there is no slowing Adrian Peterson down. He will see a high volume of passes out of the backfield, which is something he will need to adapt to for the first time in his career. The NFL is an ever-changing game and with the amount of hits Peterson has already taken, the Vikings will look to slightly reduce his carries, in an effort to maximize his productivity for the future. This puts a huge reliance on the second running back on the depth chart to supplant the best running back in the game. Norv Turner is searching for the change of pace running back that can compliment Peterson on third-down. Turner has had a running back that can do this at every stop he has made in the NFL. Whether it was Darren Sproles in San Diego, or Brian Mitchell and Stephen Davis in Washington, Turner surely loves the 'scat-back.' Who will be the next man to fill this role for Norv Turner? Let's analyze all the current options the Vikings have at the running back position.

(NOTE: I will highlight fullbacks Jerome Felton and Zach Line in a separate positional post)

Matt Asiata: The Vikings faced the departure of Toby Gerhart this offseason, leaving Matt Asiata as the only running back on the roster besides Adrian Peterson that has witnessed extensive playing time. Every running back is on the same playing field with the new system install, which means no running back has a distinct advantage to land the backup role behind Adrian Peterson. The problem I have with Matt Asiata comes with his rushing style. He's not a pass catcher, isn't shifty in the backfield, and he definitely isn't the speed demon, change of pace running back Norv Turner is attempting to find. He runs in between the tackle and has an extremely low yards per carry average. He is a huge cow that can grind and pound for four of five yards, but he doesn't have the engine of a Mercedes-Benz. That really doesn't fit what Norv Turner is looking for in a running back to supplant Adrian Peterson. The speed, agility, and pass-catching abilities will be critical for the man who emerges as the backup running back and I'm not sure Matt Asiata is that guy.

Jerick McKinnon: Jerick McKinnon was drafted by the Vikings in the third-round and Darren Sproles comparisons came fluttering out of the sky like a rain storm. He has the stature and size to fit the build of a Sproles style runner, but he needs polishing as a running back before he is ready to make this stride. He is a very unknown running back, but if you take a look at the highlights and his combine workouts, McKinnon has some insane athletic abilities. He hasn't saw time in a pro-style offense and with the amount of jumping he has made between quarterback and running back in college, he hasn't had a stable season at one position. He has the athletic ability, which could be the main reason he sees a massive amount of playing time this season. Norv Turner will find ways to creatively use him in his offense, it just boils down to whether he can make the plays and handle the adjustment to the NFL. That is one question that remains to be answered, but if he can start producing immediately in training camp, I would expect him to supplant Adrian Peterson on third-down.

Joe Banyard: Joe Banyard has been battling injuries during mini-camp and if he doesn't get them under control, he will face a steep battle to make the roster. He had a solid training camp and a fantastic preseason campaign last year, leaving room for optimism heading into the 2014 season. He hasn't registered a single regular season carry and his only stat is an 11-yard catch. He has flashed talent in the passing game and has shifty skills when he reaches the outside. It appears his skill-set matches Norv Turner's plans more than Matt Asiata. That could help his cause when the coaches evaluate the running backs following training camp. The situation becomes even more complicated because Banyard needs to make the active 53-man roster and is out of practice squad options in his career. That's not to say with a nice performance in training camp, he couldn't push for a roster spot, but the first step in making this happen is to get healthy.

Dominique Williams: Who in the world is Dominique Williams, anyways? Williams was signed out of Wagner as an undrafted free agent, and of all the running backs on the roster, he probably has the most distant chance to land with the team. He registered solid stats at Wagner, but he wasn't playing elite Division I competition either. Will he be able to handle the rigors of the NFL? Your guess is as good as mine, but my assumption would be the latter. He has struggled to catch passes in practice and was lost during one portion of drills last week, according to several reports coming out of practice. This certainly won't help his cause and as an undrafted free agent that will see limited reps, he will need to take advantage of every snap he receives. If he is already making mistakes, it won't help his chances, but with that said, a good training camp can help any player have a chance of landing on the roster.

Of all the changes in the 53-man roster between last year and the 2014 season, I firmly believe running back might see the most drama as training camp comes to a close in August. The Vikings are very weak and inexperienced behind Adrian Peterson and if the MVP goes down for any length of time this season, I don't like the alternatives. Matt Asiata doesn't fit what the Vikings are looking for in a backup running back, McKinnon is raw and inexperienced and both Banyard and Williams haven't witnessed enough playing time to make an immediate impact. As I said earlier, the running back position could see the most shuffling before, during, or after training camp. Don't be surprised to see reinforcements called in if the Vikings haven't liked what they saw in mini-camp or see issues early in training camp. A player like Bradley Randle could get a phone call to come back, especially if the Vikings make a move with one of the running backs on the roster. Randle has practice squad eligibility and is a better fit in Norv Turner's scheme than a player like Matt Asiata. Not to say this happens, but with the uncertainty surrounding the running back position, anything could happen at this point.

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