On the Vikings' most recent depth chart, Mewelde Moore is still listed as the starter, Michael Bennett the backup and rookie Ciatrick Fason the third-string running back.
The amount of carries has varied heavily. In the last two games, Bennett has rushed 38 times and Moore twice. In the previous two games, Moore rushed 43 times, Bennett eight.
The starting position also has rotated among three running backs so far this season. Moe Williams, who is now on injured reserve, started the season opener. Bennett started the next game, followed by a string of five starts by Moore. Then came Bennett for a game, back to Moore for three more, and then Bennett started last week.
If it seems like the Vikings aren't settled on a feature running back, that's because they aren't. Injuries have made the position a game of musical Moes, Moores and Michaels.
And now this from head coach Mike Tice: "I'm enamored by 35 (Ciatrick Fason) and want to take a look at him. He's done some good things. So we'll be going down the stretch here with three good backs."
That's music to Fason, who last week told Viking Update he felt he had a good chance at becoming the team's feature back in 2006. He doesn't lack confidence.
"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 last week. "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."
He has already started to get more attention. After getting no carries in the first seven games, Fason has gotten 24 carries in the last six contests.
So what is it that Tice likes about Fason?
"He's big. We haven't had a lot of big backs through here since Leroy Hoard. He's a big guy. He breaks a lot of tackles," Tice said. "He's got some good vision. I've heard people say he doesn't have good vision. I don't know what they're looking at. I think he's got great vision, and he has some wiggle to him for a big guy. He's got to learn to run behind his pads as he matures and gets whacked a couple of times, but he has some quickness about him for a big guy. He does a great job on the look team. He makes them work."
There are arguments on both sides of the equation – one that says this would be a good game for Fason to get even more action and another that says his style doesn't fit the personality of the offensive line.
First, the argument in favor of Fason. That one has to do with the style of defense Pittsburgh runs.
"This is a move-around, high-octane, zone-dog football team, and you've got to make sure you don't try to get too cute offensively and make sure you're not edgy. What they want you to do is be edgy, because they have tremendous speed, quickness and tenacity," Tice said.
Fason appears to be a much better straight-ahead runner who can use power and cutback lanes to his advantage. Running between the tackles against Pittsburgh would seem like a good plan.
However, that is not the Vikings' strength on the offensive line. Pulling their athletic guards and center is their makeup, which means running outside.
"Our strength is taking those athletes and getting them on the edge, so it will be our strength versus their strength," Tice said. "We'll see how it goes, but that is the strength of our running game. We need to understand that is what we are, and I believe we do. We run the ball pretty well outside. … We are an outside running team and we need to understand that."
That sounds more like an endorsement for Bennett, but Tice like big backs and he cannot lie.
"I am enamored with big backs. We haven't been blessed to have a lot of big backs in here. Big backs really help you as you progress this time of the year, in December and January, especially if you go outside. Big backs are a premium in bad weather," he said.
So while Tice decides which rose of the flower is up next – he loves Ciatrick, he loves the outside running game; he loves Ciatrick, he loves the outside running game – we'll all just have to wait and see how the Vikings running game attacks Pittsburgh's aggressive 3-4, "edgy" defense.
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