The Vikings have had three players with the last name Young make their active roster. First there was Jim Young in 1965-66. Then it was Rickey Young from 1978-83. Now it's Albert Young.
All three were running backs and all three wore No. 34. The current Young is most certainly hoping his career is more like Rickey's than Jim's.
Albert Young certainly started his career slower than Rickey, who had 138 rushing attempts in his rookie season with San Diego. But after three years with the Chargers, Rickey joined a Vikings team run by Bud Grant that was employing an offense that eventually became known as the West Coast offense, featuring a lot of passes to the running backs.
Rickey had a career-high 88 catches out of the backfield in his inaugural season in purple, and he went on to catch 40 or more passes in each of his first four seasons in Minnesota. That's the kind of role Albert could live with.
As the Vikings' third-down back last year, Chester Taylor had 44 catches, and now that Taylor is in Chicago, the modern-day Young has his vision set squarely on being the team's third-down back.
"No doubt. That's what I'm shooting for," he said Wednesday. "I don't care where I'm at on the depth chart. I want that third-down back position. That's what I'm shooting for right now. There's a few other guys that are shooting for it also. They feel the same way so we're just going to ball out and may the best man win."
But with Adrian Peterson limited the last few days with tightness in his leg, Young is being asked to do a whole lot more than slip out of the backfield on pass patterns or pick up a blitz every now and then on third down. Because of Toby Gerhart's rookie status, Young is being asked to take many of the first-team reps on first and second down, too.
This time last year, Young was coming off a rookie season on the practice squad. Now he's being asked to time up his runs with the likes of Steve Hutchinson and Bryant McKinnie.
"You've got to get used to your O-linemen and how they play. You've got to get comfortable with how they like to block on certain plays. I'm not used to running with those guys. I'm used to running with the guys that are on the twos and on the threes. For me to actually get to camp where I can run with the first team is huge."
And Young has been looking good. He seems to make mostly the right reads when hitting the hole. That hasn't been lost on his offensive coordinator.
"Albert is doing a fine job. He is a true professional. He comes in and takes care of his business," Darrell Bevell said. "He does his job, he does it correct every time. That is what you need. We don't want guys that are out there and do it right some of the times. We want to make sure they are doing it right each and every time.
To be sure, Young didn't get much game experience to hone his craft. He was only in for 28 plays, less than 3 percent of the team's offensive snaps, last year and he carried the ball only 12 times. But as long as Peterson is healthy when the regular season starts – and his leg injury isn't viewed as serious – and Gerhart continues to progress, Young will focus on the third-down role, something he believes fits his skill set well.
"Definitely. I'm comfortable catching the ball, picking up the blitz," he said. "You can always get better at that, though, because there are all types of defenses that we're going to be going up against. That's something I think I can do.
"We've been running blitzes all year, during OTAs and all that, so I think after that first year I think a lot of guys are pretty much comfortable with it. It's just mainly a terminology thing because you pretty much run the same protections in college, it's just different names. The difference in the NFL is there's just a lot more different looks. That's where you get confused. You've got to get more comfortable with the looks and what you're seeing rather than knowing what to do. NFL guys can be everywhere, as compared to college, where everybody is just kind of standing there."
Young's familiarity with the Vikings' system now that he's in his third NFL season puts him ahead of his competition for that role. Ian Johnson is a year behind Young in his development and coming off the practice squad last year. Ryan Moats was acquired after the Vikings' spring practices had concluded.
Now it's up to Young to continue his development and take the next step.
"The number one key with the third-down running back is protection first. You have to have an overall understanding of the protection game and an understanding that the quarterback is taken care of first," Bevell said. "Once the guy has that down solid, we look at his ability to be able to run routes. That is still something that is ongoing at this point. Looking at how the guys react to the pressure we are giving them on third down. If there is no pressure, how they are able to run routes."
Young appears to be in the lead for that, but he's not going to allow himself to think that and suffer a letdown. He can't afford that if he wants to become the next Young in Vikings history to make an impact as a West Coast running back catching passes out of the backfield.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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