NOTEBOOK: Fason Eager For Opportunity

Running back Ciatrick Fason looks primed to get his first carry in the NFL, is certainly eager to start proving his value to the Vikings and doesn't lack the confidence that he'll be successful when tested. Plus, find out where the Vikings are falling short in the statistics column and get other notes of interest in the Minnesota-Detroit series.

Running back Ciatrick Fason has been standing at the ready, waiting for his chance to prove himself at the NFL level.

"I've been ready. Just being a rookie means you have to wait for your opportunity," he said.

But Fason hasn't yet had his opportunity. Through seven games, the 2005 fourth-round draft choice has been inactive for three games in September and October, played in four games but hasn't had the opportunity to carry the ball the way last year's fourth-round running back, Mewelde Moore, did.

Fason showed flashed in the preseason,

"I'm much better now. I'm better because I'm hungry. Being hungry brings out the best in me," he said.

In four preseason contests, Fason rushed 18 times for 86 yards, a 4.8-yard average that was bettered only by Moore's 6.3-yard average. Yet, here he is, two months later, not fully gaining the confidence of the coaches to carry the ball in the regular season – yet.

So far, seven Vikings, including two wide receivers and two quarterbacks, have carried the ball. Fason's first chance could come Sunday, as short-yardage back Moe Williams isn't expected to play, leaving Fason to that role.

"I really run stronger than what people think, but I watch Moe to see what he does. But we're two different type of runners. He's not going to give you a move at all; he's just going to go downhill. And if I've got it, I'm going to give you a little move and then hit it," Fason said. "If I've just got to hit it, then I'll hit it. We're kind of two different style of runners, but I pick up a lot of things from him because he's veteran. I do what he teaches me."

But it's clear Fason pictures himself as a feature back sometime in the future, near future if he has his way.

"I think that day will come soon – very soon," he said. "The way my mind is set right now and the way it's been lately, just sitting back and watching, it gets to bringing a lot of things into my head. I know one day I will be a good running back, if not great. I'm just going to prepare myself day in and day out to be a great running back."

For now, he must exercise patience while the Vikings gain confidence in him.

In trying to stay patient, Fason has looked at Cedric Benson in Chicago and sees that even first-round draft picks don't always crack the starting lineup as a rookie. That outlook has helped the rookie out of Florida some, but not much.

"It's been a little tough, but then again being the third-string running back all the way up to the end of my sophomore year in college, it was the same way," he said. "I know what it's like to be sitting down, but when you get the opportunity you show people that you are one of the best running backs there is."

The common thread among young running backs is that they first must learn to pass protect and pick up the blitzes from more sophisticated NFL defensive packages. For Fason, a young man with confidence that runs as hard as he does, he believes playing for pass-happy Florida actually helped him in protecting the quarterback.

"It's really no different. Coming from the SEC, you see every kind of blitz there is. Coming from a passing school, like UF was, it's really no different. I kind of got used to that the last three years and that kind of helps me now at this level," he said.

"You're going to hear that from every level, jumping from high school to college you hear the same thing. Now, jumping from college to here, you hear the same thing. But once you get on the field and you don't give up sacks – you hold your own – it's not a big topic anymore."

"Right now, I don't know (if the coaches have confidence in him), but I trust that if I get in the game and have to pass protect they won't have a sack."

It appears his opportunity to prove that is on his doorstep.


Defensive end Spencer Johnson has sat out the last two games trying to heal a couple of sore knees but says he could have played last week. In fact, he was somewhat surprised he was deactivated.

"Kinda, sorta. It couldn't have hurt me (not playing). I can only get (healthier) not playing, but I thought I was going to play. Obviously, coach saw something on film that maybe he thought I wasn't ready yet."

"The injury I've got is a lingering injury. If you continue to play on it and get hurt worse, that would be a bad move, not being able to play the rest of the season."

Johnson is ready for action against Detroit, a team that's best chance to win will come by establishing a running game with youngster Kevin Jones. Detroit has the 22nd-ranked rushing offense compared to its 27th-ranked passing offense. Stopping the run as a defensive end in a 4-3 set is Johnson's strong suit, although he has been used in a number of roles since making the roster as an undrafted rookie last season.

"I pretty much know all the positions across the line, pretty much the same thing in the 4-3 or whatever, whatever I'm called to do – whether it's the nose or the end," he said.


The Vikings have scored only six touchdowns in the 22 times they've been inside the opponents' 20-yard line, a 28.6-percent red zone efficiency – third-worst in the league. Only Cleveland (15.4 percent) and Arizona (11.1) are worse.

The league median is 54 percent.

Head coach Mike Tice continues to point out the mental mistakes that have hurt the team.

"Less mistakes more than anything with the penalties down there. We need to put two plays back to back consistently. We run for five yards, then the next play we run for one yard and then we give up a sack," he said. "The mistakes really have hurt. You run the ball nicely on first down and you think, OK, this will be real good, we'll pound this sucker in there. We had already talked about how we weren't running the ball enough down there and then we come back with a one-yard run. Then we come back on third down and take a sack and then miss a field goal. The mistakes down there have been critical to the defeats down there."

The Lions rank 17th in the league with a 52.9 percent efficiency scoring touchdowns in the red zone.

Another key statistic often cited in winning is a team's turnover ratio. Again, the Vikings have been dismal there since early in the season. Minnesota is currently tied for 27th in the league with a minus-8 turnover ratio. Detroit is tied for ninth in the NFL at plus-5.


  • SS Corey Chavous has five career interceptions against Detroit and both of his career touchdowns have come versus the Lions.

  • CB Brian Williams tied a Vikings single-game record with three interceptions against Detroit on Nov. 23, 2003, earning NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.

  • FS Darren Sharper had his first career interception against Lions quarterback Scott Mitchell on Nov. 2, 1997, when he was playing for the Green Bay Packers. Sharper returned the pick 50 yards for his first touchdown.

  • QB Brad Johnson saw the first significant time playing time of his career at Detroit on Dec. 12, 1994, when he replaced Warren Moon in the third quarter. Johnson threw his first career touchdown pass on Sept. 1, 1996, when he subbed for theinjured Moon and led a 10-point fourth-quarter rally. Johnson's 2,047 passing yards are the most of his career against any opponent.

  • The Vikings are 30-12-1 against the Lions at home and haven't lost to Detroit at the Metrodome since the 1997 season. Detroit swept the two-game series that season; the Vikings have swept the series five times since, failing to do so in 1999 and 2001.

  • The Vikings have played at Detroit on Thanksgiving on only two occasions, winning 27-0 in 1969 and losing 44-38 in 1995. The Vikings have played in Dallas' traditional Thanksgiving Day game four times, somewhat surprising considering Detroit is a division rival and Dallas is not.

  • One of the more memorable moments in the Vikings-Lions series came in that 1969 matchup, when defensive end Jim Marshall executed a no-look pass that resulted in a touchdown. In the fourth quarter of the snowy game at Tiger Stadium, Alan Page tipped a screen pass that Marshall intercepted at the Detroit 45. Marshall ran about 30 yards before the Lions caught up to him. At that point, he tossed the ball to Page, who caught it in full stride and scored the touchdown.

  • About 80 former players are expected to be at the Metrodome on Sunday as former coach Jerry Burns is inducted into the Vikings Ring of Honor at halftime. The team was hoping Fran Tarkenton would be able to make a rare appearance but a previous commitment will keep the Hall of Fame quarterback from attending.

    Syndicated content contributed to the notes portion of this notebook.

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