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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Training camp preview: Vikings running backs

By Andrew Krammer

Editor’s note: Leading up to Vikings training camp, 1500ESPN.com will break down each position group based on offseason practice observations and interviews.

Current players (7)

On the team: RB Adrian Peterson, RB Jerick McKinnon

Good bet: RB Matt Asiata, FB Zach Line

Outside looking in: RB Jhurell Pressley, RB C.J. Ham, FB Blake Renaud

State of the position

Adrian Peterson (6-foot-1, 220 pounds) last season proved he’s still as dominant as anyone in the NFL with the ball in his hands. His per-carry average (4.5) was among the lowest in his career, but he continued his scoring ways (11 TDs), explosive plays (10 runs of 20-plus yards) and posted the highest catch rate (83.3%) of his career. He can still top 20 miles per hour on the field and a physical style has yet to erode entering his age 31 season. There’s still little question of Peterson’s durability after he shouldered one of his heaviest workloads with a league-high 327 carries. Ball security remains a concern (seven fumbles, three lost in 2015) as does his role in the passing game. Peterson vowed to improve as a runner and receiver in the shotgun alongside Teddy Bridgewater, who had Peterson by his side on fewer than a quarter of third downs last season, according to ESPN.

Jerick McKinnon’s elusiveness (5.2-yard average on 213 touches), combined with strong pass protection of Matt Asiata meant the Vikings made little change at running back even though the third-down role could shift. McKinnon (5-9, 205) sits at No. 2 on the depth chart after a strong finish to 2015 with a per-touch average of 8.1 yards in the final four games. He’s a productive change-of-pace back and quick receiver. His playing time could increase as the Vikings look to get more from the passing game.

Asiata (6-0, 219) re-signed on a one-year deal with a minimum base salary ($760,000). He’s a one-cut brusier and served as the primary third-down back behind porous protection, though an improved offensive line could mean a lessened role. Pressley (5-10, 206) signed as an undrafted free agent out of New Mexico, where he averaged 6.9 yards per on nearly 400 carries. However, he doesn’t offer much as a receiver having hauled in just 18 catches in college. Like a fellow undrafted product in Ham (6-1, 238), Pressley probably needs an injury or two to have a shot.

Filling the shoes of the departed Jerome Felton, Zach Line took over fullback duties and received one All-Pro vote in his first season as a starter. Line (6-1, 233) subsequently received the right-of-first-refusal restricted tender ($1.67 million). The Vikings used a fullback more during Peterson’s return (21.4 percent, up from 16.6 a year prior) and the pivot back toward a power running offense. Practice-squad holdover Renaud (6-2, 252), a converted linebacker from Boise State, is still growing into his new position.

Top competition

There aren’t a ton of touches to go around behind Peterson, but questions revolve around the division of labor on third downs. McKinnon figures to be in line for a larger role, but Peterson also wishes for more. Available opportunities will likely come in the passing game. That’s where competition will heat up in camp as Peterson looks to prove he’s more than one of the game’s best runners and McKinnon tries to break out. Asiata is the backfield’s most effective blocker and could remain involved should protection call for it.

Telling

“Just running routes and just really focusing on learning the route tree. Just being more agile and running routes not as stiff. You got a young guy Jerick [McKinnon]. He’s a Pro Bowl athlete. He does a great job of providing that scat back for us when he’s out there, so just being more involved in that aspect.” — Adrian Peterson in May

Looking ahead

With Peterson back in the saddle, the Vikings rose to fourth in rushing yards (138.2 per game) and tied for third in yards per carry (4.7). Mike Zimmer has kept the door open for Peterson taking a preseason carry for the first time since 2011, but he didn’t sound too bullish on the idea last month. Entering his 10th NFL season, Peterson is set to earn the last guaranteed money ($11 million) on his current contract and could be heading to the negotiating table soon. In the final year of his contract, Peterson’s cap spikes to $18 million and the Vikings’ deadline comes on the third day of the 2017 league year, when Peterson is scheduled to receive a $6 million roster bonus. It’s the end of the reworked three-year deal they negotiated last summer to smooth over a tumultuous 2014. Moving forward, the two sides approach a tightrope negotiation between a future Hall of Fame running back entering his age 32 season and a franchise with many young wallets to fill. For now, the primary questions are about Peterson’s fit in shotgun and McKinnon’s expected increase in playing time.

The post Training camp preview: Vikings running backs appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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