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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Zulgad: Jerick McKinnon figures to see expanded role in Vikings’ offense

By Judd Zulgad

MANKATO – Jerick McKinnon arrived at Vikings’ training camp with a simple motto: Just keep working.

Two days into practice, that hasn’t been a problem for the third-year running back.

Adrian Peterson has done the majority of his work on a side field because of a hamstring strain, creating a heavy workload for McKinnon with the first-team offense.

This likely isn’t a preview of things to come for McKinnon, considering Peterson had an NFL-leading 327 rushing attempts last season, but it is expected that McKinnon will have a bigger role in Minnesota’s offense this season.

“I don’t know what will happen,” McKinnon said after Saturday’s practice. “I would love to get a chance to contribute more but that’s for the coaches to decide. I’m going to focus on being the best that I can for the Vikings.”

McKinnon, a third-round pick by the Vikings in 2014 out of Georgia Southern, rushed for 538 yards on 113 carries and caught 27 passes for 135 yards in 11 games during his rookie season. But that was with Peterson sitting out all but one game.

Last season, McKinnon played in all 16 regular-season games but only had 52 rushing attempts — there were four games in which he did not carry the ball — and his reception total dropped by six. McKinnon’s role did increase late in the season as he had 114 rushing yards on 18 carries and two touchdowns in the final three regular-season games. He also caught nine passes for 117 yards and a touchdown in that span.

While Peterson and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater struggled to complement one another, Bridgewater and McKinnon seemed to have better chemistry. This was in part because McKinnon is a more proficient receiver than Peterson and he also is more comfortable when the quarterback is lined up in shotgun.

Remember, it was Peterson who talked about wanting to become a more complete player like McKinnon after last season.

All of this would lead to the common sense conclusion that the Vikings’ coaching staff will find a way to utilize the 5-foot-9, 205-pound McKinnon more often after having the NFL’s 29th-ranked offense in 2015.

“We want to be more consistent and we want to do whatever it takes to win a game,” offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. “Some games maybe that means Jerick gets more carries. Some games that means Jerick gets the ball thrown to him. Maybe some games we have Jerick and Adrian in the backfield together.

“It’s about putting a plan together that helps you win. … We want to be more balanced like we were in a number of our game where we did have good offensive production. We want to be more consistently balanced and get everyone involved.”

Given Peterson’s struggles in pass protection, McKinnon would seem to be a good option to take the majority of the snaps in third-down situations. But McKinnon acknowledges that he remains a work in progress when it comes to that area of his game.

He played quarterback, wide receiver, running back and cornerback at Georgia Southern and never in that time focused on picking up blitzes as a running back. “If you can protect the quarterback you can play in this league for a long time,” McKinnon said.

But McKinnon has no interest in simply being a third-down back for the long term.

“I don’t label myself as a third-down back or a change of pace guy,” he said. “If that’s the role I’m put into then, yeah, I embrace that role. But, for me, it’s about being an overall complete back. I don’t just see myself as a third-down back my whole career. For me it’s about coming out here, working every day at my craft, and working every day to get better as a complete back. Then whatever role I’m placed into I’ll take that on.”

And while that should be an expanded role, McKinnon does understand that opportunity will come, but first he must show patience playing behind Peterson.

“For me, I’m still young so it’s just all about the opportunities that I do get to capitalize off of those,” he said. “At the same time, even though I’m going into year number three, it’s still a learning curve to me. I’m still learning things about being a complete back.

“Anytime I get to watch Adrian I’m dialed in like I’m in the backfield. So it’s not really about weighing the opportunities versus being patient, it’s more about just learning and then when I get my chance show what I’ve learned and put it into attack.”

The post Zulgad: Jerick McKinnon figures to see expanded role in Vikings’ offense appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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