Confident Fason Hoping For Big Impression

Running back Ciatrick Fason could be the Vikings' starter Friday, and the rookie says he has the skills to handle the job and wants to prove it. So far, the evidence says he can.

With a shortage of healthy running backs, Vikings coach Mike Tice said if rookie Ciatrick Fason is healthy, then the 2005 fourth-round draft pick will start Friday's preseason finale in Seattle.

Michael Bennett and Mewelde Moore both saw limited practice time Monday, participating in one-on-one drills, as they continue to work their way back from injuries. Bennett has a strained neck and Moore suffered an ankle sprain in Friday night's game against San Diego.

Fason, too, is limited by an ankle injury suffered in the second preseason game. He said he was told to take it slow in practices, but he wants to go full speed.

"I know what's a high ankle sprain and what's not. I had one before and this one isn't nearly as bad as what I had before," he said. "I'll be ready to go come Friday. I'll just take it slow throughout the week.

Fason said he's pain-free, but he hasn't been hit on the ankle yet, and he isn't slowed by it. He said there was swelling for two or three days, but it felt like a bone bruise.

Tice would also like to get an extended look at Fason, and he is the most likely of the three injured backs to play.

"Certainly if he is able to get out and play, he's going to play," Tice said of Fason. "Moore I doubt."

Veteran Moe Williams will stay in his role as third-down back and short-yardage back, Tice said.

While the injuries at running back have to be disconcerting, Tice is ready to play whichever backs are healthy.

"You just have to play the hand you are dealt and move on," he said. "We got guys you can hand the ball off to. If you get a hat on a hat, I'll give you the ball. You can make 5 yards, right? We'll just make sure that we block really well, hold our blocks, give some sucker the ball. If they block good, they can make yards. If they don't block well, it doesn't matter who we got back there, you're not going to make yards."

Fason said the opportunity to start won't faze him.

"I handled the nerves stepping into the first preseason game, so to me it won't feel no different. Football is football," he said. "Once you step on the field, you're going to get hit. You just need to go out there and play your game.

"I think in the first preseason game I opened up some eyes. This will give me the chance to open up some more eyes going in to start. I'll go out and do what I do and then go out and open up the coaches' eyes more than what I did in the first game."

Fason holds the team lead for average yards per rush at 7.4, followed by Moore at 6.3. Michael Bennett, who was deemed the team's starter at running back, is averaging 1.6 yards per carry.

But for Fason, Friday's opportunity is not about numbers. He simply wants to prove himself. His goal is simple.

"Just knowing I can go out and play with the ones, go out there and play with Daunte (Culpepper) on the field – just prove to myself that I can play against a No. 1 defense," Fason said of his goals.

Pass protection is almost always the drawback when playing a rookie running back, but Fason said his experience with the University of Florida's passing attack should help him.

"I know pass protection is a big thing, and me coming from a school like the University of Florida, once they see I never gave up a sack once we get in the game, I put my face in there because I know you can't get the quarterback killed. If you get the quarterback killed, you won't be on the field long. I know how to protect the quarterback," he said.

"It's really all about technique, just put your face in there and hold onto your weight and make sure the quarterback gets the ball off. If you can do that for three seconds, you're fine."

Fason said his running backs coach in college attended numerous NFL training camps and brought back some those techniques to the Gators' practices.

He says about 90 percent of the offense comes to him naturally at this point in his rookie progression. The other 10 percent, he needs to think about. Reading the other teams defense is his biggest challenge.

If he can do all that, he will have accomplished his goal in what is expected to be his first preseason start.


Once again, E.J. Henderson passed the test at weakside linebacker. This time, his head coach is affirming that.

"I thought E.J. Henderson was just short of brilliant, or excellent in the game the other day, which looks like so far, the move is working out," Tice said. "Sam (Cowart) is getting better. He's getting the legs under him, and I think Napoleon (Harris) is figuring it out too."

Henderson tied Dontarrious Thomas for the team lead Friday night with five tackles. Harris had the only sack registered by the first-team defense (rookie Erasmus James had the other).


Tice backed off of a statement from last week when he said there was competition for the nickel back spot between Brian Williams and Ralph Brown. Monday he said that job belongs to Williams.

"I was trying to say that I haven't decided a lot of things yet, and I said, ‘I don't even know who the nickel back is.' I probably shouldn't have said that because I think we tried to create a competition that is not there," Tice said Monday. "Brian (Williams) is our nickel back. Brian is a real good football player. He could start on a lot of teams at corner. Ralph (Brown) has had a great preseason. I used it as an example and it probably is a poor example. There is really no competition there. Brian is our nickel back."


  • Kicker Aaron Elling did not participate in practice and isn't sure if he'll be able to play on Friday. At this point, it would appear that Paul Edinger has won the job, but Tice wasn't ready to proclaim that just yet. Edinger made field goals of 25, 30, 50 and 20 yards on Friday without a miss, scoring 13 of the Vikings' 19 points.

  • After a dismal performance in Friday's game, when his gross punting average was 35.3 yards, Travis Dorsch survived the first round of cuts.

  • Fred Smoot was among the players returning punts at Monday's practice, but don't expect that to last. When he mis-handled one of his first attempts, it became a point of humor between him and Tice. Keenan Howry and Darren Sharper were the other two returners for a brief portion of practice open to the media.

  • Three members of an officiating crew were on hand for Monday's practice, part of a trend that Tice is incorporating to emphasize fewer penalties in games. So far, it worked. Last week, following a 17-penalty game against the New York Jets, the Vikings brought in officials for portions of practice. Against San Diego on Friday, the Vikings were penalized only five times.

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