All of the focus this week has been centered around the one player who won’t be in New Orleans Sunday (Adrian Peterson) and not on those who will be heading to the Big Easy this weekend.
The Vikings plan to replace Peterson with a potential committee of Matt Asiata, Jerick McKinnon, Joe Banyard and possibly fullback Jerome Felton. For Asiata, it will be a return to the spotlight. In a pair of starts when Peterson was injured last season, Asiata scored three touchdowns in one game and had a 100-yard game in the other.
While he understands more than most that replacing a player like Peterson is going to be difficult, it’s also a chance for Asiata to make a statement on his ability in what appears to be a multi-game situation this season.
“It’s a big opportunity,” Asiata said. “I’ve got very big shoes to fill. I’m not going to replace A.D., but I’m going to go out there and showcase my talent and help the team win football games.”
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner had a plan that was Peterson-centric to run the Vikings offense. Now, clearly that has changed. While the Vikings remain a team built to run, the offense is clearly going to change without Peterson and the Vikings will have to reassess their offensive options and decide a plan moving forward.
“The biggest thing you do, in any phase of football, is you want to take advantage of the strengths of the players you have and put them in a position to be successful,” Turner said. “Right now it would be Matt and Jerick, and obviously they got a lot of work in the preseason. So, we’ve got a pretty good feel for them. It still comes down to we have to do the things that give our offense the best chance to be successful in terms of going in and winning the game. We’ve played two games, and obviously in the first game we protected the ball extremely well and we gave ourselves a chance to win. We didn’t do that last week and the result was the complete opposite.”
In the case of Asiata, he’s taking the same approach he has maintained as Peterson’s backup, but he does see this chance as an opportunity to live up to a time-honored NFL mantra that backups are only one play away from stepping into the spotlight.
“I’m confident,” Asiata. “Nothing is going to change about my preparation or my attitude toward the game. It’s next man up.”
The biggest change in roles may come for McKinnon. Through his first two games, he has accounted for just 13 yards – eight yards on three rushes and five yards on two receptions. With the Vikings looking for a change of pace in the offense with Peterson out of the picture, McKinnon is looking forward to the potential of playing an expanded role in the offense and live up to the potential that got the Vikings to draft him in the third round of May’s draft.
“Obviously, before there wasn’t as many touches, but I’m still excited to go out there and play, be part of the 53-man roster and suit up with these guys I come to work with every day,” McKinnon said. “It’s the same mentality. Nothing has changed.”
The short-term plan is for Asiata to take over the primary running back role and it’s something he’s looking forward to despite the circumstances.
As a part-time player for all of his Vikings career, the absence of Peterson opens up long-term opportunities for Asiata to show what he can do over an expanded period of time and, while he wishes the circumstances were different, he understands that he is being given an opportunity that has eluded him thus far in his career.
“I’m not happy with him being gone, but it’s another step for me and the team to do what we do and just play football,” Asiata said. “There’s a little bit of pressure, but not that much. I’m just going to go there, me and help the team win games.”
The shakeup of the Vikings offense is going to be quite pronounced, as teams are less likely to be crowding the box with eight defenders. It will be up to Asiata and McKinnon to keep defenses honest and respecting the run. That’s where Felton comes in. As the lead blocker for Peterson, he was front and center when Peterson had the second-most rushing yards for a season in NFL history.
He sees the new-look offense as something that will be challenging, but not reason for concern. Whoever is running behind him, he’s prepared to knock defenders out of the way to open up running lanes.
“Coming into this year, I feel as good as I’ve felt in three years,” Felton said. “I’m ready to be as physical as I’ve ever been. I think everybody needs to raise their level of play and I’m planning on doing that myself.”
After a game or two, we will likely have a better handle on how the workload is going to be distributed among the running backs and what sort of balance the Vikings will have between the pass and run. Asiata maintains he isn’t going to do anything different than he has during his preparation for this opportunity.
How it will play out hasn’t been determined, but Asiata is looking to make the most of this chance – even though he intends to keep doing what he’s always done.
“That’s totally up to the coaches,” Asiata said. “I’m not going to change one bit. I’m going to stay Matt Asiata – just going out there, play football and have fun doing it.”
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.
Asiata’s role changing, but he isn’t
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