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 before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.

Opportunity emerges for running backs

Posted by: under Vikings, NFC, Adrian Peterson, Chester Taylor Updated: April 16, 2010 - 4:19 PM

Running backs Ian Johnson and James Johnson both spent last season in NFL locker rooms but not on 53-man rosters. Ian Johnson was on the Vikings' practice squad and James Johnson was on Cincinnati's.

Both are hoping that 2010 will be their chance to prove their worth.

Depending on what the Vikings do in next week's draft, that opportunity could exist as Minnesota looks to find a backup behind Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson. Chester Taylor had held that role -- and proved extremely valuable in third-down situations -- but he elected to sign with Chicago as a free agent last month.

Albert Young is now considered No. 2 on the depth chart and Darius Reynaud has been moved from wide receiver to running back. But Ian and James Johnson still feel Taylor's departure has created an opening.

"I know I can contribute as a third-down  back," said James Johnson, a Kansas State product who played in four games as an undrafted rookie with Cincinnati in 2008. "I can catch and block, so I figured I'd have a fair chance to play. I'm just trying to do anything [I can] to make the team."

Ian Johnson shares the same optimism. "As long as there is an opening right now, until they say for sure that someone has got it, there's a shot for me and that's why I'm out here and working hard," he said this week after going through a morning of conditioning drills. "Doing everything I can to give myself an advantage."

Ian Johnson, a standout at Boise State before signing with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent last year, praised Taylor for helping him grow as a player.

"Chester is a good friend and it's tough losing a good friend," Ian Johnson said. "He's probably one of the sole reasons I'm still here. He took me under his wing and taught me as much as he possibly could. I've learned so much from that guy. I almost lose an asset in having him here but I gain an opportunity to play more and more often."

James Johnson signed with the Vikings in January and admits he did so in part because he heard Taylor likely would be leaving. He did end up holding his breath when the Vikings entertained running back LaDainian Tomlinson on a free-agent visit. Tomlinson ended up signing with the New York Jets.

"I was excited," when Tomlinson went with the Jets, James Johnson said. "It gives me a better chance to play and all I want to do is have an opportunity to play."



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