The years fly by, but the faces that come off the Vikings' practice field stay the same. They're young, fresh and eager. And, believe it or not, seven of them that walked by on Wednesday were born in the ... 1990s?!
Six of them are rookies. The other is running back Jordan Todman, born Feb. 24, 1990. The hot news then was the fallout from the Exxon Valdez oil spill, an infamous international event that seems like only a few years back to those of us who aren't 22, run a 4.4 40-yard dash and have an excellent opportunity to secure an important role in the youth movement being orchestrated by Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman.
To those who lost interest or were too angry to continue following the 2011 Vikings, Todman quietly signed with the team Dec. 28, four days after star running back Adrian Peterson's left knee buckled at Washington. The 5-10, 198-pounder had spent most of the season, his rookie year, on the practice squad of the San Diego Chargers, who selected him in the sixth round out of the University of Connecticut.
Rather than attach his long-term hopes to a team that already had Peterson and Toby Gerhart, Todman could have declined the offer. That's what Packers receiver Tori Gurley did earlier in the season when the Vikings, desperate for receivers, came calling.
But where Gurley saw a dead-end job in purple garb, Todman saw opportunity.
"I think all the running backs here bring something different to the table," Todman said during the second week of organized team activities (OTAs). "I'm a change of pace. A scatback. A good guy in the open field, which is cool. I like that. Hopefully, the Vikings like it, too."
What the Vikings would like, according to coach Leslie Frazier, is "a little bit more out of our third back." That's wise since last year's third back was Lorenzo Booker, whose 13 carries shouted unreliable. They also ranked seventh on the team behind Peterson (209), Gerhart (109), receiver Percy Harvin (52) and quarterbacks Christian Ponder (28), Joe Webb (22) and, yes, even Donovan McNabb (14).
Last week, as OTAs opened, all eyes were on Peterson and Harvin, the two injured Pro Bowlers, as they repeatedly raced to the top of a nearby hill. Perhaps a few heads should have turned toward Todman and Lex Hilliard, the four-year veteran who was signed from Miami. The winner of their competition later this summer won't become a star alongside Peterson and Harvin. But the winner could make Peterson and Harvin even more explosive by taking a much-needed nibble or two from their workload during a long season.
Even if Peterson returns in time for the season opener, he'll have a carry limit that's probably going to be much lighter than his career average of 19.3 per game. Meanwhile, Harvin might pack the league's strongest 185 pounds, but he simply isn't built to double as a No. 3 running back, which was proven by the many injuries he played through last year and his recent shoulder surgery.
"I don't know if we would have done that if things were a little bit different for us at halfback," Frazier said. "Percy's ability to make plays, we still want to utilize that in the backfield, but maybe not to that number."
It's too early to declare a front-runner between Hilliard and Todman. Hilliard is a bigger but slower back at 235 pounds. He was ahead of Todman in Wednesday's practice rotation, but that's only because he has more experience. The two shared overall reps equally behind Gerhart.
"Once Jordan gets the offense down, he's going to be a dynamic little scatback for us," Gerhart said. "He's got a great first step. He's quick as can be. He gets that ball and wants to run sideline to sideline, making cutbacks and big plays."
He's also as young as the face says he is. That was clear when Todman, the No. 2 career rusher in Massachusetts high school history, was asked about Jo Jo Goodine, the only guy ahead of him on that list.
"Jo Jo is from my hometown [New Bedford], so I know of him," Todman said. "But me being young, I never got a chance to watch him. He played a long time ago."
Goodine graduated in 1995. A "long" time ago.