What a difference a year makes for Ciatrick Fason.
Last year, Fason was the prolific running back for the Florida Gators who rushed for 1,267 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also had 35 catches for 266 yards and two touchdowns. He was an all-purpose producer for the Gators. In the Peach Bowl nearly a year ago, Fason rushed for 94 yards and had catches for 40 more.
Gone, though, are the days where Fason bursts through the line looking for daylight. Now, when he does carry the ball, he looks for the yard or two that is required for a Vikings first down. Once he crosses that line his knees usually hit the ground. And off to the sidelines he goes until another third-and-short situation.
Meet Florida rookie Fason, the Vikings' latest version of Moe Williams.
"My role has changed a lot from college," Fason said. "Right now, my No. 1 role is to get the first down. When Moe got hurt and coach (Mike) Tice told me he was going to give me Moe's short-yardage carries, I was excited. He told me to be ready for the short yards and that all I had to do was get the first down.
"So I prepared myself and had a mind-set to get that short yardage and keep the chains moving."
Fason has 18 carries for 44 yards, for a meager average of 2.4 yards per carry. Eliminate his 15-yard run earlier this season, and his average per carry yardage amount dips to 1.7. But that hasn't detracted Fason from making big plans in the future.
Fason is well aware of recent Vikings history. Ever since Michael Bennett's impressive 1,296-yard rushing campaign in 2002, the Vikings by default have operated under a running back by committee approach that has utilized Bennett, Mewelde Moore, Onterrio Smith, Moe Williams and Doug Chapman.
Having seen that, Fason sees the open door for someone to grab the feature back role. Because of several injuries to Bennett, Moore and Williams, and a year-long suspension to Smith, Fason thinks there is an opening for him to grab big for the 2006 season.
"It's very intriguing to see that ever since Michael got hurt after his Pro Bowl year, it's been a running back by committee," Fason said. "Mike's trying to get back to that form, but he hasn't gotten the carries he usually gets. And Mike's a free agent this year and you never know what's going to happen.
"In the offseason I'm going to work myself out so I can show up at training camp next year and compete for the starting position. Everybody is waiting for one guy to stand out. In the offseason, I'm going to work hard to come to training camp and try to win the starting tailback job."
Vikings coaches weren't sure what they had when they drafted Fason in the fourth-round last April. In minicamps and even in training camp, running backs coach Dean Dalton struggled figuring out Fason's personality.
"I didn't know if he was getting what I was teaching," Dalton told Viking Update earlier this season. "Everyone learns differently and I teach every concept four or five ways. But each way one guy finally sinks in and absorbs it. With him, it took me longer to figure him out because he's so quiet. He sits there, takes it in and learns quickly."
Fason observed enough in training camp to know this year would not be his year to carry the majority of the load in the backfield.
"I had no idea where I was going to end up," Fason said. "I knew I was going to play special teams, but I didn't know if I was going to get any carries because we were loaded at running back. Moe was healthy then and Mike and Mewelde were there … I had no aspirations of getting the ball this year."
Much has changed in four months.
"I was rusty when I first came in, but I'm fine right now," Fason said. "If I have to make a block — trust me — nobody's going to get to the quarterback."
Judging by his words, lacking confidence isn't a factor for this Vikings rookie.
"My talent can take me anywhere," said Fason, whose address in the Florida Gator record books is next to Emmitt Smith, Fred Taylor, Errict Rhett and Jimmy Dubose. "I don't want to be good. I want to be great."
Fason Holds High Aspirations for 2006
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