There has been much said about the 2010 Vikings returning all 22 starters from last year's team. It's one of the reasons that many view the Vikings as one of the favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. But there is one key position that has gone largely unnoticed during the preseason – who will replace Chester Taylor as the Vikings' third-down back?
Taylor was adept at the role of third-down running back, which requires a back to be a triple threat – a runner, a receiver and, perhaps most importantly, a blocker. Almost from the day Taylor left, the first name mentioned as his potential replacement was Albert Young.
In his first two seasons, Young has been used sparingly. He spent 2008 on the team's practice squad and, while he made the 53-man roster in 2009, he played in just seven games (primarily as a special teams player) and had just 12 rushes for 53 yards and no receptions. However, when Taylor signed a free-agent deal with the Bears, Young was thrust into the role of third-down back, a role he relishes in the Vikings offense.
"Everyone knows that Adrian (Peterson) is the primary ball carrier, but the departure of Chester leaves a void," Young said. "As a result, the nickel situation – the third-down back – is there and, as running backs, we all can learn. We all can run the ball, but you also need to pass protect. The main thing is knowing who to block, block your tail off and do whatever you need to in order to keep your quarterback from getting touched. I take a lot of pride in that."
Although the Vikings traded up in the second round to draft workhorse college running back Toby Gerhart, Young has maintained his role as the third-down back throughout the minicamp season and through training camp and the preseason. He has graded out extremely well – getting high marks for blitz pickup on every situation he has faced in the first three preseason games – but said he isn't getting ahead of himself in terms of locking down the third-down spot.
"In this business, you never know," Young said. "But I've been working in the nickel a lot and I'm pretty confident that I have a spot here."
Young said his first two preseasons were preoccupied with whether he was going to make the roster or not. In 2008, he was released, only to be re-signed the following day to the practice squad and he made the active roster last year. But he said he is convinced he has made an impression on the coaches with his work ethic and, while nothing is guaranteed, he feels a lot better about his chances this time around than he had in the previous two years when cut-downs loomed.
"I'm not walking on pins and needles like I was my first year," Young said. "You never know what's going to happen in this business, but I have a lot of confidence that I'm doing the right things and that I'm part of this team for the long haul. I feel good about the work I've put in during the offseason and I believe it has been noticed by the coaches. I'm confident that everything will work out."
His role isn't the kind of job that gets fans energized or sells jerseys. His is a job that, when done properly, goes largely unnoticed. Making blocks isn't glamorous, but it's what is at the heart of football – providing the quarterback with the extra couple of seconds needed to make a big third-down play to keep drives going. Young enjoys his niche with the team and he expects that it will continue and expand in 2010.
"I know the things in my game that I need to do in order to keep me on this team," Young said. "If that means taking on linebackers as a blocking back to protect our quarterback, so be it. It may not be pretty, but it's what we need as a team to be successful and I'm willing to do it as well as I can."
Yet, Young's confidence isn't complete. How can you tell? By his living accommodations. He doesn't live in a big house on the big side of town. He rents an apartment, something he has done since 2008 and, although he is confident he has a role defined in this offense, he isn't making the final leap of putting down roots in Minnesota just yet.
"A lot of us stayed in a hotel during the preseason my first couple of years and, if we made the team, we found an apartment that had a short-term lease with it," Young said. "I'm confident that I have a place on this team, but have a bought a house here? No. That should answer that question."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
RB Young ‘pretty confident' in his role
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