All The Right Moves At RB

The Vikings took a gamble in trusting Mewelde Moore instead of bringing in a veteran off the street. He performed just as they expected, according to a team source who said Moore had been labeled incorrectly.

Most teams might have held an open tryout to fill the void the Minnesota Vikings were suffering through at the running back position. The healthiest back on the roster entering Sunday's game at Houston was a rookie the team likes, but they were only hoping he'd ready for starting duty.

With Michael Bennett lost for no less than two weeks due to knee surgery, the Vikings were venturing into rough waters heading into a Sunday battle against the upstart Houston Texans.

Couple Bennett's injury woes to the league-mandated four-game suspension of Onterrio Smith, and the Vikings were facing a precarious situation at running back. Let's not forget veteran Moe Williams was less than 100 percent with a nagging calf injury and ended up not playing.

He wasn't going to see action unless Mewelde Moore suffered a severe case of rookie-itis. He did just the opposite, rushing for 92 yards on 20 carries and racking up 90 yards receiving.

"We have a significant amount of confidence in Moore. The kid has come in here from day one and been an active, high-energy player," a team source said. "You can't discount his ability and toughness. He is not the scat-back type runner many people believe he is. Sure, the kid has quick feet and dances a bit, but he has really turned it up in regards to following his blocks and hitting the hole."

Losing Bennett for an extended period of time might have hindered another team's push towards the NFC North crown. Without a legitimate threat in the backfield, the Vikings might have been sitting ducks as the 2004 season progressed without Moore. But, if there was a silver lining to the injury issues that have hit the Vikings hard, it is that young players are gaining valuable playing experience.

It doesn't hurt that the Vikings' coaching staff is getting the opportunity to evaluate their options heading into the offseason.

"In the offseason, more than a handful of teams inquired about some of the players on our team. The running back position was one where the interest was the deepest," the team source continued. "Michael Bennett was discussed on more than a couple occasions. We thought long and hard about doing something from an area of strength. But the payback and potential stripping of depth at that critical position led us to keep everything intact.

"There was a time in training camp we were looking at some additional help in the defensive backfield and possibly at the linebacker spots. There was some talk about Bennett and possibly Onterrio Smith being dealt, but it was never serious."

In Minnesota, the front office and coaching staff must have had a crystal ball. Last season the team selected Smith in the fourth round of the draft following an outstanding career at Oregon. Again this season the Vikings selected a running back in the fourth round to solidify their quality and depth in the backfield.

Moore, truly an all-purpose type running back from Tulane, is an explosive talent and one that has impressed the entire Vikings organization. Being an excellent pass-receiver coming out of the backfield, Moore was slated to see some time in third-down situations as the season progressed, but the timetable for his coming out has been hurried.

"We hope Mewelde can handle the load for a week or so until we get healthier in the backfield. Moe really is not ready to carry the ball 20-plus times yet and Bennett is still a couple weeks away, at best," the source said. "He has taken a significant number of reps in practice the past couple weeks, as we anticipated he may need to see extended playing time. He has done well carrying the ball, but we have some concerns with his pass-blocking responsibilities, for which we will have to add support in that area with the tight ends."

If you didn't know Mewelde Moore before yesterday, you do now, as he likely will be the feature back in the Minnesota backfield for at least another week. Don't be surprised to see his production continue — this rookie can play and may just help everyone forget about Bennett and Smith for another week.



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