As the Vikings began their preparation week for the Philadelphia Eagles Wednesday, they did so with second-year running back Matt Asiata taking the first-team reps with the offensive starters.
Vikings fans likely know who Asiata is, but only the hardcore fans know his running style. In two seasons with the Vikings, he has just three regular-season rushing attempts for 9 yards and he had to think about when he had his last rushing attempt for the Vikings.
"The last time I had a carry was in the preseason against Tennessee (Aug. 29)," Asiata said. "I keep my preparation the same. Nothing really changes (if I play Sunday). I'm going to go with the game plan the coaches have, execute it on the field and just go full-out."
With Adrian Peterson likely out with a sprained foot and Toby Gerhart working his way back from a strained hamstring, Asiata would be the "next man up" for the Vikings if the walking wounded can't play Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. Once Gerhart was hurt in the fourth quarter of last Sunday's game, Asiata got his first three reps on offense this season.
As Matt Cassel pointed out, Asiata was the one that threw the key block to spring Cordarrelle Patterson loose for a 79-yard touchdown on a quick-hitting pass.
For Asiata, it is a chance to show the coaching staff that he can be more than just a special teams ace and can provide the Vikings with a much-needed spark in the backfield. He's looking to make an impression on the coaching staff and the Metrodome crowd that he can get the job done when winning and losing counts against a team's record.
"I want to show the coaches what I can do … and the Vikings fans," Asiata said. "I just want to put my name out there. We're a run-first team and I think we're going to stay a run-first team. I just want to do my part to help out where I can."
Although he hasn't seen the field in a meaningful game in more than a year, Asiata has always felt a part of the offense because the running backs work well together in critiquing themselves and the other backs and making adjustments when they make mistakes so as not to repeat them. In the process, they have become a pretty tight-knit little subset of the offense.
"Our running back group, we look out for each other," Asiata said. "Adrian, Toby and me all look to make corrections. Jerome Felton will help us out with corrections as well. It's all a brotherhood in the room and I like that."
It has been a privilege for a young back like Asiata to learn from a player like Peterson, whose Hall of Fame credentials have already secured him a spot in Canton after his playing days are over. Although Peterson is capable of doing things few others can, his running style never ceases to amaze his teammates, who learn from his exploits how to become a better running back, whether it's reading blocks or hitting a hole with authority.
"You learn a lot just by watching him," Asiata said. "Being in the meeting room with him and watching film, it's a learning process every day. You always see something different with that guy. He's a beast. I'm truly blessed to be around him."
Now it's a wait-and-see game for Asiata throughout the rest of the week. Peterson hasn't been ruled out of Sunday's game with the Eagles and Gerhart might return to practice Friday. But, for the time being, Asiata is on the top of the running back depth chart and, unless both players heal significantly, when the Vikings take the field Sunday, it will be No. 44 that will be taking at least some of the handoffs and trying to establish the running game.
With the uncertainty of who will be available, Asiata will continue to take first-team snaps and expects to make an impression if his number gets called on Sunday.
"I'm just going to prepare like I always do," Asiata said. "Hopefully, I can do Adrian and Toby proud if they need me."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Asiata wants to do Gerhart, Peterson proud
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