Training Camp Preview: Running Backs

With camp just a few days away, it seems like a good time to roll up our sleeves and do a little position-by-position analysis.  We’ll start with the running backs.

Obviously, any discussion of the Vikings‘ running back corps must begin with Adrian Peterson.  Last year, with the offense becoming more pass-happy, Peterson’s total rush yardage (1383) and yards-per-carry numbers dropped (4.4).  However, with Brett Favre‘s passing carrying the Vikes deep into the red zone more often, Peterson’s TD total soared to a career high of 18.

But rushing stats aren’t what we’re worried about with AD – we know he’ll get his 1200+ rushing yards and 15+ touchdowns.  What concerns us is his fumbling problem, which became alarming during the NFC Championship Game loss to the Saints, and the fact that, with Chester Taylor gone, he will now have to expand his game and become a reliable back in 3rd down situations.

The comparisons to Walter Payton have been there since the beginning for AD.  But if he wants to truly live up to them, he needs to become a more complete player – which means improving his receiving, his blocking and, most importantly, his ball security.

After Peterson, who remains a superstar-level player despite his various nagging issues, the running back situation becomes a bit murky.

With Chester Taylor gone to the Bears, there is an opening for a #2 back.  The front-runner would seem to be Ryan Moats, an established veteran whom the Vikings signed to bolster their depth and experience.  Moats’ main competition figures to be rookie Toby Gerhart, a powerful runner who could come in handy in short-yardage situations.

And of course we must not forget about Albert  Young, who spent last season watching Peterson and Taylor from the bench.  Young is headed into his second year with the Vikes, and may be ready to rise up and claim a more prominent role on the team.

Rookie Ryan D’Imperio and 2009 practice squad hand Ian Johnson round out the Vikings’ complement of potential running backs.  Not much is expected of either of these guys, but with the RB depth chart more unsettled this year than in the past, there seems a greater chance of some obscure name impressing the coaches and winning a job.

There will be a lot of things to watch for in camp regarding this group.  Adrian Peterson’s work both as a receiver and blocker, most prominently.  Also, what measures will the Vikings employ to help alleviate Peterson’s fumbling problems?  Then, there’s the issue of the depth chart.  How many running backs will the Vikings keep?  Is this the year Albert Young finally arrives?  And does someone emerge from this group who shows the skills to spell Peterson in 3rd down situations?

There’s no new Chester Taylor among the various backs the Vikings will try behind Peterson.  Moats, though a reliable veteran, has done little in his career to indicate that he is a receiving threat.  Gerhart was seldom called upon to catch balls in college, so no one really knows what he has to offer in that regard.  The best we can hope for is that one of these guys will show good enough hands and enough command of blocking schemes to provide an adequate alternative should Peterson struggle on 3rd down.

The one guy to watch, for me, is Gerhart.  When the Vikes took him in the second round, it was hard to see exactly how his skills fit into the overall plan.  Now we’ll get to find out exactly how the Vikings intend using the runner, who has talent, but whose drafting was seen by many as a puzzling mistake.

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Tags: Adrian Peterson Albert Young Chester Taylor Ian Johnson Minnesota Vikings Ryan D'imperio Ryan Moats Toby Gerhart

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