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Bleacher Report – Vikings

If McKinnon can’t play, could Hillman make an impact?

By Matthew Coller

The status for running back Jerick McKinnon is up in the air after the Minnesota Vikings’ starter suffered an ankle injury last week against the Philadelphia Eagles. While McKinnon said he is hopeful to play and he was out of a walking boot on Friday, it still appears likely that he will either not play or be limited. That could open the door for running back Ronnie Hillman.

The former Denver Bronco was picked up as a free agent after Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson suffered a knee injury against the Green Bay Packers. Hillman, 25, played in all 16 games and started 11 for the Super Bowl-winning Broncos last season. He was effective in their run-heavy offense, gaining 4.2 yards per carry and totaling 863 yards on the year.

His best game came in Week 17 against the San Diego Chargers in which he scampered for 117 yards on just 15 carries and scored a touchdown.

You’ll notice that he is a little shifty and can find running lanes. You’ll also notice that there *were* running lanes on two of his highlight-reel plays. That has not been the case with the Vikings this year.

Offensive coordinator Norv Turner talked on Friday about whether Hillman would be prepared to take on a significant load.

“I think he’s getting more and more comfortable with our offense,” Turner said. “When you come in like he did, he was inactive for a couple weeks, you get a certain amount of reps, now he’s getting more reps. I think he has a good understanding of what we’re doing and we know he’s had success as a runner, so he’s getting to where he can contribute more.”

Hillman only saw a handful of snaps last week against the Eagles, carrying the ball one time for a six-yard loss. He was also blown up in pass protection.

“You don’t want him to be your lead pass-protecting back,” Turner said. “You’d like to get him out of the backfield and moving. But whoever the back is, the pass protection is a big part of it.”

Because of his size, the perception would normally be that a smaller back would be effective in the receiving game a la McKinnon, but that was not the case for Hillman last season. He averaged just 4.6 yards per reception.

Matt Asiata, who also struggled in protection against the Eagles, is a much more effective receiver out of the backfield, averaging 7.6 yards per catch this year and 7.1 per reception when he had 44 catches in 2014. However, Asiata has not been very productive throughout his career as a rusher, only gaining 3.5 yards per carry in 288 rushes.

The Vikings rank dead last in the NFL in yards per carry, which is in large part due to their offensive line. Pro Football Focus ranks the Vikings as one of the worst in terms of yards before their backs to be contacted by the defense.

“We’ve had a lot of changes up front,” Turner said. “I’m not saying it’s an excuse, that’s the facts. The other day, I actually thought we ran the ball pretty well. We got more consistency in the running game. We got in a game where we were down, I think if we had managed the early part of that game, we would have had a good day running the football.”

The post If McKinnon can’t play, could Hillman make an impact? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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