Vikings have Asiata’s heart

Matt Asiata is getting an opportunity this year with Adrian Peterson and Jerick McKinnon out. He’s also in a contract year.

Matt Asiata has been an enigma to Vikings fans. An undrafted free agent in 2012, he came in knowing that not only was he behind starter Adrian Peterson on the depth chart, but he was behind Toby Gerhart as well. There weren’t going to be many opportunities.

When both Peterson and Gerhart were injured last season, Asiata got his first chance to shine. In the two games he started, he carried 44 times for 166 yards and three touchdowns – cementing his place on the roster.

This season, with Gerhart gone, Asiata became the most likely starter in the event anything happened to A.P. Fans know the story of how that has played out and Asiata has responded. He became the starter in Week 2, lost the starting job to rookie Jerick McKinnon and then regained the starting spot when McKinnon went down with a back injury.

Since then, Asiata has been the lead dog in the Vikings backfield, but is part of a platoon with Ben Tate and Joe Banyard. Asiata sees the lion’s share of playing time but doesn’t mind that the Vikings use multiple backs in the offensive game plan.

“It doesn’t really matter to me,” Asiata said. “I just go out there and try to do my job when I get the opportunity. I try to keep the same mentality that I’m going to be carrying the ball all time, but I realize that the coaches like to mix things up and use different guys. I’m good with that. Whatever the coaches want, I’m going to do it. It’s about the team.”

A lot of running backs believe that they really don’t get into comfort zone until they’ve had eight or 10 carries in a game and have the opportunity to wear down a defense. That hasn’t been the case with the Vikings and Asiata. He agrees that running backs get into a groove with more carries, but understands that defenses can struggle with different backs coming in for a different look.

With McKinnon done for the season, Asiata has seen his role increase again, but doesn’t have an objection to being in for a series or two and then out for one because it’s how the Vikings are doing business these days without Peterson or McKinnon.

“With Jerick out, I’ve had the chance to carry more of the load,” Asiata said. “You don’t always get in the rhythm like you do when you’re out there for most of the snaps, but it’s how we’re doing things. You have to be ready because they can call your number to go in at any time – whether it’s me or Ben or Joe. I just try to set the tempo for our running backs. It’s hard to get in a groove back there every week, so all you can do is run hard when you get the chances.”

With the potential that Peterson may have played his last game for the Vikings, finishing strong is of vital importance to Asiata. There are questions as to what direction the Vikings will go if Peterson doesn’t come back in 2015 and there are jobs to be won in that event.

Asiata wants to make an imprint on the coaching staff that he deserves one of those spots and that he should be re-signed and given a chance to compete for a roster spot.

“For me, being a free agent (after this season), I’m just trying to finish strong and show the coaches that I can bring value to the offense,” Asiata said. “The whole season is important, but at this point the coaches are going to see what kind of heart you have and what kind of effort you’re willing to bring. It’s been a long road, but I want to show them that I’ll give maximum effort throughout the season until they tell us it’s over.”

Zimmer has taken notice, indicating Asiata will get the majority of carries again Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.

As a pending free agent, not only is Asiata “putting it on film” for the Vikings coaching staff, he is potentially doing it for 31 other teams as well. As Vikings fans know, Jacksonville made Gerhart an offer to get his opportunity for more playing time, so there’s always the possibility if another team likes what it sees in Asiata – as a starter, a backup or a goal-line specialist – he will likely have a job in the NFL in 2015. The only unanswered question is where that will be.

The reality is that Asiata is showcasing for 32 teams these last two weeks of the Vikings season, but he isn’t viewing it as that. He wants to remain a Viking and doesn’t see these final two games of the season as a potential audition for other teams. Minnesota is where his heart is at.

“I don’t look at that way,” Asiata said. “I’m just trying to help the Vikings win. A lot of people have put in a lot of work for this team and I just want to show them that I’m a great teammate and can be in the future. I’m a team player. It’s all about winning. That’s my mentality. I want to stay a Viking because I like it here and I think we’re heading in the right direction and I want to stay part of that.”

These final two games may go a long way in determining whether Asiata is or isn’t part of the Vikings’ future plans.

Viking Update Top Stories