Vikings turn focus to Saints, replacements

The Vikings are trying to get the Adrian Peterson controversy behind them and concentrate on football. That was easier with the questions coming from New Orleans than those faced in Minnesota.

Despite the distractions, the business of football continued Wednesday. With the Minnesota Vikings in the center of the NFL discussion universe over the Adrian Peterson decision, head coach Mike Zimmer and quarterback Matt Cassel conducted conference calls with the New Orleans media in preparation for Sunday’s game.

As would be expected, much of the questioning was Peterson-related, but, unlike the questioning up in Minnesota, the Saints media was focused on how the Vikings will function without him – actual football questions.

“It’s been a little bit of a challenge,” Zimmer said.” I think the one thing that all of us as athletes and professional football players, when we get on the field and in the meeting rooms, it’s all about focus. The biggest distraction is when you are watching TV at home, or you got this or you have to talk to someone or whatever. I think we all understand how focused we have to be. Quite honestly the Saints have our ultimate attention.”

Zimmer acknowledged that losing the centerpiece of the offense is a big blow to the team, but the Vikings only played him in one of their six games (counting preseason), so they are familiar with the other offensive weapons that will have to step up while Peterson is away from the team.

“He didn’t play any in the preseason so we were able to get a good look at a number of other things, what we do offensively,” Zimmer said. “We do feel good about the backs we have. I feel like we have some other weapons in Kyle Rudolph and Cordarrelle Patterson and also Greg Jennings. So obviously as coaches we are going to try to do our very best to figure out what the strengths of our guys are and mold the system to them. We’ll continue to do that.”

The new centerpiece of the offense is likely going to be Cassel. He is going to be asked to take on more of the offensive load with Peterson gone, but is confident the combination of Matt Asiata, Jerick McKinnon and Joe Banyard can get the job done.

While you can’t replace an MVP, Cassel expressed confidence that the combination of role players can get the job done, as well as calling upon his own experience in a similar circumstance in which the loss of an MVP doesn’t mean the death of a season.

“Adrian’s a special player,” Cassel said. “We all know that and everybody else in the league knows that. We have a lot of respect and confidence in Matt Asiata and Jerick and the guys behind them. They played a lot in the preseason. Asiata proved last week he could catch the ball out of the backfield. He stepped in for us last year and had a three-touchdown game, so he’s a very capable back. The fact of the matter was when I got my start in New England (when Tom Brady got hurt), it was an opportunity where Tommy got hurt. Nobody thought we could do anything. We closed ranks so to speak and went on to an 11-5 season. Guys get opportunities in this league all the time. This is another opportunity for Matt Asiata and Jerick to go out and play and perform.”

It’s also going to be a chance for Cassel to erase the bad memory of last week’s game with New England. One thing he will have going for him is success he enjoyed the last time he played In New Orleans, something the New Orleans media hasn’t forgotten about..

While he didn’t throw a touchdown, his Chiefs went into New Orleans, the offense scored seven times and Kansas City won 27-24 in overtime. Cassel remembers that too and, while he won’t be without his top weapon, he won’t forget what he learned from the loud crowd at the Superdome and that acclimation will be something he and the offense will bring on Sunday.

“Our guys have to get ready for a loud environment,” Cassel said. “From playing there before it’s as loud as any stadium I’ve played at. There’s a lot of excitement. We need to be able to weather the storm early. We know that they are going to come out with a lot of excitement from their home crowd in their first home game of the year. At the same time, they have a defensive line that can rush the passer. We have to play good football and we know that. The mistakes that hurt us last week and the turnovers I had, I have to eliminate that. I have to get back to playing like I did in the first game and the preseason in protecting the football and putting ourselves in a better position to win the ballgame.”

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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