The Vikings have had their depth tested during September, and their riches at running back will be tested heavily in October as well.
That extreme depth starts with Mewelde Moore, who up until this week was solely a kickoff returner for the Vikings save for one carry in the season opener against Dallas.
Moore's move up the team's ladder, even if by injury default, didn't alter his approach.
"Every day I prepared like I, at an instant's notice, could be out there playing," Moore said. "I'm always staying focused and I'm always studying to stay on top of my game."
He is expected to get the majority of the carries Sunday in his first real action of the regular season, but he opened eyes during the exhibition season. Even though it was against opponents' second- and third-string defenses, Moore racked up impressive numbers. He finished the preseason with 17 carries for 103 yards (a 6.1-yard average) and a touchdown.
That experience, the rookie fourth-round pick said, has helped his quick transformation from being fourth on a depth chart to first.
"I got my feet wet a little bit and I got the experience of being out there and feeling the intensity of games," Moore said. "I feel comfortable with what's going on when I go out there and play."
The Vikings aren't concerned about Moore or first-year back Larry Ned's ability to run the ball. What troubles coaches, head coach Mike Tice said, is the pair's lack of experience in pass protection and their knowledge of the blocking schemes.
"As far as the running game, I think we all saw a little bit of glimmer of No. 30 in preseason and No. 28, and saw that both these guys can carry the rock," Tice said. "That's not the question. It's the protection stuff. I think we're concerned about some protection things, and I think that anytime you have young backs back there you're concerned about some protection things."
Moore, who holds 24 records at Tulane, didn't show the same concern.
"You can understand why they feel that way, but I kind of have a feel for what's going on," said Moore, a fourth-round draft pick. "As far as expectations, I feel confident and I know my blocking schemes and my assignments."
Ned gain for Vikings
Ned led all Vikings running backs in carries and touchdowns during the preseason. In four games he rushed for 109 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries.
"Larry Ned is a good football player," Tice said.
Like Moore, Ned said regardless of whether he is second or fifth on the depth chart, he prepares for games the same way.
"It's no different than the way I prepare for special teams," Ned said. "It's the rotation that you're worried about and you want to get in. This is my second year of running these plays so I'm at a good confidence level.
"It shows the coaches have confidence in us. When you know your coaches are backing you, then you have confidence, too. This is a chance for me to go out and show why the coaches kept me here. My mindset is to be ready. When the time comes I have to be ready to rock and roll."
Ned made music at San Diego State, where he was the school's second-best rusher in history, second only to Marshall Faulk. After being drafted — then cut — by Oakland in 2002, Ned spent half a season with the San Diego Chargers watching LaDainian Tomlinson. He signed with the Vikings near the end of the 2002 season, then spent most of last year on Minnesota's practice squad.
The Vikings' next two games at Houston and at New Orleans offer Ned the best chance he has had yet at playing in the NFL.
"Whatever the job is, they brought me here for a reason," Ned said.
Whether it's Ned or Moore, or Bennett, Smith or Williams, the bottom line is the offense needs to get off to a good start.
"If we start off running the ball well, that'll give [Moore and Ned] confidence," tackle Bryant McKinnie said. "It's always really important to get the running game off to a good start."
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