Jerick McKinnon is fast, shifty, versatile, deceptively strong and stuck behind one of the rarest of NFL creatures — the ageless running back.
The Vikings’ third-year backup could be in his prime at age 24. But standing in 31-year-old Adrian Peterson’s shadow can be a cold place. So cold that it offered only 52 carries and 73 touches with Peterson playing all 16 games while winning his third rushing title a year ago.
Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner said he sees no reason to adjust Peterson’s workload based on age. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t trying to expand the offense to include more looks for McKinnon.
“Adrian takes such good care of himself and we did a pretty good job of [monitoring his carries] last year,” Turner said. “So he doesn’t look like he’s slowed down at all to me.
“But, sure, we’d like to be in a position where we’re playing better on offense and getting more plays and more first downs so we can get Jerick and Matt [Asiata] some more touches.”
Peterson was remarkably healthy at age 30 a year ago. But Turner resisted the urge to push his carries too far. At least compared to his career average. Peterson had a league-high 327 carries, but his average of 20.4 per game was only slightly above his career average of 19.8.
For the Vikings’ running backs to take the next step, Peterson needs better ball security first and foremost. He had a league-high six fumbles in the regular season and another one that helped turn the game late in the wild-card playoff loss to Seattle.
He also has talked again about trying to become a more well-rounded back in terms of catching the ball and pass protection. Perhaps that’s not necessary with McKinnon as an excellent pass catcher and Asiata as the best pass-protecting back on the team.
Turner will make sure that Peterson gets the touches he deserves, but look for McKinnon to take on a bigger role, whether it’s on third downs or some rare playing time alongside Peterson, the Peter Pan of NFL running backs.