Is There Really A Battle At Running Back?

In April, one of the most heated battles on the team was supposed to be at running back, but it appears Michael Bennett has the starting role sewn up. That leaves the backup position a battle between Moe Williams and Mewelde Moore, and it's hard to tell whether Mike Tice is trying to motivate Moore or just stating the facts as he sees them.

Vikings coach Mike Tice might mean what he said. Or he might be firing a shot over Mewelde Moore's bow. Welcome to Training Camp 2005, where reading in between the lines is as popular as wind sprints and water breaks.

When asked about the running back situation — with Michael Bennett being the featured back and everyone else battling for No. 2 on down — Tice offered this take early in camp: "Moe Williams will get more carries. Moe is a player that comes through many times. Every single time we ask Moe to do something he doesn't do it OK, he does it great."

If you take Tice for his word, that means Williams is shedding the label of "third-down and short-yardage specialist" to become the backup to Bennett. On a token series where Bennett will need a few plays off, Williams will be his replacement.

"First and second down, Moe could be in there, regardless of who wins that running back position," Tice said.

Moore is the back to watch this month. Last season as a rookie he experienced both the highs and lows of the NFL. In October, when Bennett was hurt and Onterrio Smith was suspended for four games because he violated the league's substance-abuse policy, Moore stepped in and performed well.

In his first start at Houston, he rushed for 92 yards and made 10 catches. A week later in New Orleans, he rushed for 109 yards. The next week against Tennessee he rushed for 138 yards. Moore's elusiveness was what impressed the Vikings. He was one of the league leaders in yards gained after getting first touched by a would-be tackler.

But a slow recovery from an ankle sprain caused Moore to miss five straight games in November and December. The long recovery time frustrated some Vikings coaches and has raised concern about Moore's durability.

That could be why Tice, during the second day of training camp, announced increased playing time for Williams.

Moore says he learned a lot during his rookie season. "I take a great deal of information from last year," said Moore, a fourth-round draft pick in 2004.

"Looking back at it and taking everything I've come across in my rookie season, it was a great roller coaster ride. I had the good times of winning and performing well, but also the time of injury when we were not doing well, then when we broke through in the playoffs. I've seen all the ups and downs.

"It made me a better professional and a better human being."

The battles on the bottom for the final running back spots will be intriguing this month. Butchie Wallace, Ciatrick Fason and Adimchinobe Echemandu are probably fighting for two spots. Fason, a Florida Gator, was picked in the fourth round of the draft in April and is certain to make the team. Wallace spent all of last season on the Vikings' practice squad and must make an impact on special teams to stay. Echemandu, who was drafted in the seventh round by the Cleveland Browns in 2004, had eight carries for 25 yards last season. He went by the name Joe Echema prior to 2003, when he finished his college career at California.

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