MANKATO At one point Thursday morning, Chester Taylor was standing on the practice sideline in shorts, his bruised forearm wrapped tightly. Adrian Peterson was limping toward the trainer's tent, each step more ginger than the last.
Hope? For a moment, it was fleeting.
The Vikings are counting on two players to shoulder much of their offensive load this season, and in one 48-hour period of training camp, both were sidelined with frightening but ultimately mild injuries. Taylor was convinced he broke his arm during a full-contact drill Tuesday before X-rays showed a bruise; Peterson suffered a hip pointer Thursday morning.
Taylor returned Thursday afternoon for a noncontact session, but neither he nor Peterson is expected to participate in tonight's practice against Kansas City. Much as left tackle Bryant McKinnie's muscle strain forced the Vikings to assess their line depth, the (temporary) loss of Taylor and Peterson aside from causing a few rapid heartbeats cast new light on their reserve running backs.
"I always say it," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "Any time a guy goes down, the next guy in line has got to be able to show something."
In this case, the next guy is a player whose role seemed murky at best when the week began. Mewelde Moore, a fan favorite who has gained an average of 6.3 yards every time he has touched the ball in his career, found himself the No. 3 running back when Peterson ended his holdout and began practicing Monday.
Assuming Peterson and/or Taylor will assume the third-down job, Moore seemed to represent high-end insurance and possible trade bait. It might not have been coincidence, in fact, that on Monday coach Brad Childress lavished Moore with rare and effusive praise during an interview on KFAN (1130-AM), saying Moore is having an "excellent, excellent" camp and adding, "I'm seeing things I didn't see from him last year."
Tuesday, Childress made a point to mention Moore in the opening remarks of his daily news conference.
"The guy that probably gets overlooked, Mewelde, has had an excellent camp," Childress said. "He really has, and you saw him pop out here and do a couple of things [Tuesday]. He has done everything we've asked him to do and then some. He just keeps his nose to the grindstone there, and he wants to be a good football player, and again I've seen him do some different things."
Such praise may well reflect Childress' true feelings, but it could also help solicit trade offers from teams that might need a tailback. Moore is in the final year of his contract and eligible for free agency, and the Vikings' commitments to Taylor and Peterson suggest they might not pursue a long-term deal with Moore.
Moore, who has endured questions about his durability throughout his career, was on his best behavior during an interview this week. He said he assumes he will play this season in Minnesota and has not spent much time considering his future.
"All I can do is play football and play as hard as I can," he said. "When I'm given opportunities, I want to make the most of them. I just want to go hard and do things right."
This week's events, however, will give the Vikings pause as they consider Moore's immediate future.
Peterson played only one complete season at Oklahoma sidelined by ankle, shoulder and collarbone injuries and made it through three days of practice before cornerback Cedric Griffin's inadvertent elbow caused the hip pointer. Taylor, meanwhile, wore down as the feature back last season and already is set to assume a lighter load to preserve him in 2007.
"It's a tough position to play," Bevell said. "Every time you are in there, you are getting hit, whether you are carrying the ball or whether you are in pass protection. So you definitely need depth at that position."