So Adrian Peterson, the perennial Pro Bowl running back who still has his sights set on the NFL’s career rushing record, is back in the house. What does that mean for the two running backs who carried the load during his extended absence last season?
With Peterson playing only one game in 2014, the Vikings turned to then-rookie Jerick McKinnon and steady, reliable runner Matt Asiata. Led by those two, the Vikings finished 14th in the NFL in rushing yards and 11th in yards per carry. Their running backs fumbled only once. And only Marshawn Lynch and DeMarco Murray rushed for more touchdowns than Asiata, who rumbled into the end zone nine times.
Still, there is little doubt that getting Peterson back will be a boost to those efforts.
With Peterson, who turned 30 this offseason, expected to shoulder most of the backfield workload, McKinnon and Asiata will see a significant reduction in snaps.
McKinnon, who showed promise in his six-game stint as a starter in 2014, is now a backup. Yet the former college option quarterback is taking the long view when it comes to his development, which is why he is genuinely excited to have Peterson back.
“A lot of people see it as ‘I want to start’ and all that stuff,” he said. “I just see it is an opportunity to learn from perhaps the best running back ever and a future Hall of Famer. … I can see that eventually leading me to have more success in my career.”
McKinnon, a shifty scatback, occasionally will spell Peterson as an early-down change of pace. The Vikings also will look for opportunities to get him involved as a pass-catcher.
Asiata, meanwhile, remains the team’s best pass-protecting back, so he should have an important role on third down, often playing ahead of Peterson and McKinnon.
Asiata also will be the goal-line back if Peterson gets injured or needs a breather.
But like McKinnon, Asiata knows handing the ball to Peterson gives the Vikings the best chance to win, and he says he has no problem with taking a back seat to Peterson.
“My mind-set isn’t going to change. I’m going to go out there and give it my all,” Asiata said. “When two-eight’s here, just have his back and let the team roll.”