Ciatrick Fason has been there before. Splitting time between standing on the sidelines and sitting on the bench watching the star running backs excel is a melodramatic way to spend weekends in Gainesville, Fla. That role hasn't exactly been spine-tingling here in Minnesota, either.
But just as he did as a Florida Gator in 2003, Fason is finally getting his chance with the Vikings when he is the likely starter in place of Chester Taylor Sunday at Detroit. Taylor, who is nursing sore ribs, missed his second straight day of practice Thursday and did only limited non-pads work on Friday, increasing the likelihood that Fason will either start or garner the majority of carries in the Vikings backfield Sunday.
Even though Fason has been salivating at the opportunity to start since he arrived in Minnesota before the 2005 season, these aren't uncharted waters for the second-year running back. As a sophomore in 2003, Fason found himself in a similar situation.
The Gators' star back that year was Ron Carthon. DeShawn Wynn was also ahead of Fason in the carries department. That left Fason as the third option, and at times, a spectator in "The Swamp."
"There was three of us, and the two of them were getting all the reps and I wasn't playing that much so that kind of helped me be patient," Fason said. "Then I got opportunities down the road ... that situation I was in for college helped me out for the situation I'm in now."
Carthon led the Gators in 2003 with 595 yards rushing, and Wynn had more carries than Fason as well and rushed for 540 yards. But with significantly fewer opportunities, Fason rushed for 583 yards. He led the Gators' running trio with an impressive 6.9-yard average and started the final three games of the season.
To Fason's delight in 2004, Carthon moved on and Fason leapfrogged Wynn on the depth chart and was clearly Florida's feature back. He rushed for 1,267 yards while maintaining a solid 5.7-yards-per-carry average.
His performance was enough of a sell to the Vikings, who made him their fourth-round draft pick in 2005. But as a rookie, he was parked behind Michael Bennett and Mewelde Moore on the depth chart and found himself once again on the sidelines as a cheerleader.
As a rookie, he rushed for 62 yards on 32 carries. His powerful running style helped move him into a goal-line running role under Mike Tice's coaching staff and he finished the season with four touchdowns.
This season, under Brad Childress, Fason had been virtually non-existent in the Vikings' backfield. He suffered a sprained shoulder in training camp and never managed to recover before the regular season began. He was inactive on game day for eight straight weeks.
Childress cited the injury as a reason Fason has spent more Sundays this season in civilian clothes than in uniform.
"He was banged up," Childress said. "He couldn't completely let it go there and you could see him holding back a little bit."
Fason wasn't holding back last Sunday in Chicago when Taylor had to leave the game because of a rib injury. Fason provided the only glimmer of light in what was a dark day for the Vikings by rushing for 75 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries.
"I was happy to get the opportunity – that was the most I had played since I was in the National Football League," Fason said. "Last year I had 62 yards on 32 carries and this past week I got 75 yards, so I got the opportunity and I was looking forward to it."
Playing sparingly as a rookie and then seeing the Vikings sign Taylor in the offseason, virtually assuring him of few carries in 2006, Fason says he never let himself get frustrated this season. A road roommate of Taylor, Fason tried to keep his sights on the bigger picture.
"Every night he talks to me about how you have to make the most of the opportunity because anything can happen and I just listened to him because he was behind Jamal Lewis (in Baltimore)," Fason said. "You have to be ready because anything can happen, and when you get the opportunity you have to make the best of it."
That opportunity Fason so covets looks like it will begin on the Vikings' first drive Sunday.
Fason to the Forefront?
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