Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


Vikings 2013 look ahead: Running backs

Posted by: under Vikings, NFL draft, Leslie Frazier, Adrian Peterson, Leslie Frazier, Percy Harvin Updated: January 21, 2013 - 11:40 AM

The Vikings coaching staff and front office are in the process of fully evaluating their roster as they plan for the opening of free agency in March as well as April’s NFL Draft. As General Manager Rick Spielman, head coach Leslie Frazier and their respective staffs put their heads together, the Access Vikings team is doing the same. We are in the middle of delivering snapshot evaluations of every position group. Today, we look at the running backs.

RUNNING BACKS

Get excited: Adrian Peterson recorded the second most prolific rushing season in NFL history and then headed into the offseason driven to do even more. Seriously.

He might not be human.

Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards this past season and tied an NFL record with seven runs of at least 50 yards. And then he used the confidence gained from that remarkable run to set his goals for 2013 even higher.

So here it is: Peterson is aiming to rush for 2,500 yards.

“All things are possible through Christ who strengthens me,” he said on the day he cleaned out his locker at Winter Park two weeks ago. “With that, there’s not much you can’t accomplish. So I set that goal. That’s a mark that I want to reach. No one has ever tried to accomplish something like that. So I just shoot high – for myself.”

Let’s be reasonable about this. Thoughts of a 2,500-yard rushing season are outlandish. Asinine even. That would require an average of 156.3 yards per game. And for Peterson to top 2,000 this past season, it required Percy Harvin to be absent for the final seven games of the season, a dynamic that added to the running back’s opportunities. Plus, the Vikings had little potency in their passing attack, something Peterson himself should want changed for the Vikings’ long-term hopes.

But even with all that said, mention that 2,500-yard total to anybody in the Vikings locker room and it doesn’t even draw a snicker.

More of a shrug and a sentiment of “Hey, if anyone can do it, Adrian can.”

That’s part of Peterson’s allure, his ability to make even ridiculous goals seems reachable.

Here’s what right guard Brandon Fusco had to say: “It’s something I think he can accomplish. For sure. It’s scary to say. But why not? Why can’t he get there? It’s possible. You look at what he just did this season and we had a slow start in the running game. I think everyone would agree that he was getting better at the end of the season. We know our identity and what he’s capable of, so like I say, why not?”

It is worth noting that in this season’s final eight games, Peterson amassed 1,322 rushing yards. You do the math.

Keep an eye on: Peterson benefited in 2012 from the lead blocking of fullback Jerome Felton, who was rewarded for his efforts with an invitation to the Pro Bowl. The Vikings signed Felton to a one-year “prove it” deal last March. And well, Felton proved it, establishing himself as a bruising, durable and dependable fullback who delivered key and crushing blocks on many of Peterson’s longest runs.

So now what? Well, Felton has made it very clear he wants to re-sign with the Vikings as soon as possible, extremely comfortable with his role here and appreciative of the opportunity he’s been given. The Vikings want Felton back for obvious reasons as well. Now it’s a matter of the front office and Felton’s agent, Sean Howard, working out the right deal.

That should happen well before free agency opens in mid-March.

Reason for worry: Boy, sure seems like a stretch to say there’s any reason for worry with the running back unit. Maybe there’s some worry for Toby Gerhart, who will enter the final year of his rookie deal after carrying the ball only 50 times for 169 yards in 2012. There just wasn’t a lot of opportunity to spread around with Peterson handling nearly 82 percent of the Vikings’ non-quarterback rushes this season.

So what’s in store for Gerhart’s future? Is he comfortable retaining a limited role as a Peterson insurance plan here in Minnesota? Or will he desire to find heightened opportunity elsewhere? That’s a question that needs answering. But not right away. The plan in 2013 will be very similar to how the Vikings operated in 2012.

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