Fason Ready to Break Out?

Vikings rookie running back Ciatrick Fason could be on the brink of being one of the breakout stars of the Vikings and the NFL this season.

The Vikings' recent track record of getting production out of fourth-round running backs has been impressive. In fact, several NFL teams have opted out of taking running backs in the early rounds because they have found so many gems in the second day of the draft.

In 2003, the Vikings got Onterrio Smith, who, for better or worse, was a productive player when he was in the lineup. In 2004, they took Mewelde Moore, who shined in his brief opportunities to start and be a contributor. Although seen as best-suited to be a third-down or change-of-pace back, Moore has shown he can shoulder the load if called on.

But in 2005, the Vikings completed their trifecta by taking Ciatrick Fason. Unlike Moore and Smith, Fason could have a chance to win the starting job and keep it as a rookie.

On draft day, Tice compared Fason to a younger version of Moe Williams. Considering Tice's unwavering love for Moe, not only is that high praise, but something fans should listen carefully to. If Tice was convinced Williams could handle a 20-carry workload week in, week out, he would have given him the starting job. Fason is young enough and strong enough to handle that workload.

When asked about the consistency in selecting fourth-round running backs -- much less giving a pick to move up a few spots to assure they got him -- Tice said the value was just too much to pass up.

With Smith likely done as a Viking after yet another strike against the NFL's drug policy, Michael Bennett quite possibly heading out the door via free agency after this year, Williams another year older and Moore viewed as a situational back by the coaching staff, Fason has the opportunity to make his mark early and make it stick.

While his money is likely slotted within about $50,000 of what he'll receive on his first contract, don't be surprised to see Fason and his agent look for the shortest deal they can get. Fason could be starting by midseason and come into training camp 2006 with the job as his to lose.

* Another precinct heard from. Street and Smith's pro football preview issue, while making sure to a get a busty cheerleader shot for all 32 NFL teams in their team profiles, predicts the Vikings to win the NFC North. Unfortunately for Vikings fans, they predict the Vikings will lose at home to the Panthers in the first round of the playoffs.
* Tice stressed at minicamp that, with the return of Jim Kleinsasser and Mike Rosenthal, the Vikings could return to their former perch as the NFL's top rushing team. The team put together a patchwork line without those two and Matt Birk for spells last season and went to the air much more than Tice intends to this season.
* The Sporting News has been breaking down teams position-by-position since the draft and this week the focus was on cornerbacks. The Vikings were listed as the best team in the NFC at the CB position. How long has it been since Vikings fans (or national media) could say that?
* Through this week's developmental camp, Tice said neither Aaron Elling nor Paul Edinger has separated themselves in their ongoing kicker battle.
* Troy Williamson saw some action with the first-team offense in Friday's minicamp practice.
* Birk is likely to open training camp on the physically unable to perform list. VU has been told that the team will likely sign a center playing in NFL Europe as a training camp replacement. Tice reiterated that he expects Birk to be on pace to start the regular season opener Sept. 11 barring any setbacks in rehab.
* If the Vikings are truly interested in R.W. McQuarters, they will have to be willing to spend for him. His agent is Tom Condon, known for getting enormous contracts for clients from Peyton Manning and Tony Gonzalez on down. He has indicated that at least five teams have contacted him about McQuarters and, if he can play those teams off each other, McQuarters might get priced out of consideration for the Vikings -- although some already believe their interest is to let holdouts like Brian Williams and Corey Chavous know that, if needed, the team will move on without them.

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