This week on the vikings.com Blog, we’re breaking down the Vikings roster position-by-position to give fans a comprehensive assessment of the team as the first preseason game – tonight in Tennessee – approaches. We’ve already looked at the offensive line, defensive line, tight ends, defensive backs and wide receivers and linebackers. Up next: quarterbacks, fullbacks and running backs.
The Vikings decision to trade for Donovan McNabb just before the beginning of training camp gave the team something it hadn’t had in two years: the comfort of knowing the identity of the starting QB heading into camp. This was a big deal for the Vikings, especially considering the lockout had significantly derailed first-round pick Christian Ponder and second-year player Joe Webb’s chances of learning the offense thoroughly. With McNabb, the Vikings have a 13-year, playoff-tested QB to lead the new offense. McNabb gives the Vikings a chance to win games immediately and he takes pressure off of Ponder and Webb to be thrust into action too early; this will the long-term development of both youngsters.
Barring some unforeseen circumstances (knock on wood), McNabb will be the team’s starter this season. Behind McNabb the Vikings have Ponder, Webb and Rhett Bomar. It’s common for teams to bring four QBs to camp and once you’re in camp you have a chance to earn a spot, but as expected it was Ponder and Webb battling for position on the depth chart. When you select a QB with the 12th overall pick, obviously the eventual plan is for him to play. But Webb has proven himself a capable QB to date. He entered camp as the #2 QB and he’s done nothing to lose that standing. Webb will run the second-team offense tonight in Tennessee and it will be fun to see how he plays.
We should certainly not write-off Ponder, though. The fact that Webb has remained the #2 QB behind McNabb is not an indictment on Ponder, rather, it’s a credit to Webb. Ponder has looked the part of a first-round QB so far. He carries himself professionally, is respected by his teammates, does not look overwhelmed on the field and has given every indication that he has the stuff to be a starting NFL QB. It’s just going to take some time for him to learn this offense and become comfortable in the system. Remember, most rookie QBs have several weeks in their new offense with their new teammates before training camp. Ponder had zero time with his new team before camp and was literally given a trial by fire over the last 13 days.
We move on to the FBs and there were really on two of them in training camp. Second-year player Ryan D’Imperio was atop the depth chart, to no surprise. The Vikings selected D’Imperio with their seventh-round choice in the 2010 NFL Draft and they actually converted him from a college LB to an NFL FB. D’Imperio spent the 2010 season on the Vikings practice squad and perhaps the Vikings decision to not re-sign starting FB Fahu Tahi is an indication that they want to give D’Imperio a look. Helping D’Imperio’s cause to make the team is the fact that he’s been running with the first-team in a lot of special teams phases.
The second-team FB is a guy that I’ve actually enjoyed watching in camp and has impressed. His name is Matt Asiata and he’s an undrafted rookie free agent out of Utah. This kid is athletic, he can catch the ball out of the backfield and he’s got some wiggle to him when he’s carrying the football. Ironically, the only part of his game that I would question right now is his lead blocking ability. Obviously that’s a FB’s main job – lead blocking – so Asiata has something to prove throughout the preseason and the rest of training camp at Winter Park, but I’ll continue to keep my eye on him.
It should come as no surprise to you, but the Vikings are going to be fine at RB this year. Adrian Peterson, despite being in a contract year, showed up on time for training camp and he’s performed well. I took some criticism for saying it, but he had one of the best practices I have ever seen a couple of Thursdays ago. He started off looking great in pass protection during a blitz drill, picking up E.J. Henderson and allowing McNabb to find Michael Jenkins for a long completion on one play. Then he looked outstanding in 9-on-7, knifing through the line of scrimmage two times in three plays for a long gain; remember, the 9-on-7 drill is designed to create contact and collision, but Peterson went untouched twice. Later toward the end of practice, Peterson made three catches that were far from routine, one where he was sprinting down the right sideline, had to slow down, turn around and leap toward his outside shoulder to haul in the pass. Anyway, I digress…
Toby Gerhart has looked solid as the #2 RB. I know a lot of people like to think of him as a FB, but he is a pure RB and he’s a good one, too. He’s more of a between-the-tackles runner than Peterson, even though Peterson has a bigger build. Gerhart is a no-nonsense, north-south, down-hill runner who tends to break the first tackle and will rarely be stopped for no gain or less. He’s also going to be a great asset for the offense in the four-minute situation, where the Vikings hold a lead and are trying to run out the clock. After trying to stop Peterson all game, defenses are going to have to adjust to trying to stop Gerhart, who will have fresh legs, with the game on the line and the clock working against them.
The #3 RB is a guy who surprised me a bit with how good he looked in camp – Lorenzo Booker. You’ll probably remember Booker as the guy who came to the Vikings late last year and looked good on a few kickoff returns. This year, I think you’ll remember him as the team’s outstanding kickoff returner who was also a nice change-of-pace RB. Booker has some ability in the pass-receiving game and he’s got some wiggle to him as well. He’s hard to bring down on the first try and I think he’s going to be a factor on offense this year. Booker also has a legitimate chance to be the team’s primary kickoff returner, especially if the coaching staff decides to use Percy Harvin only sparingly in that role to preserve him for offensive use.
After those three guys, the Vikings have a pair of youngsters in the RB stable - Tristan Davis and Alexander Robinson. Davis has not come out and flashed a bunch, but he’s also not been a waste. I’m not sure how long he’ll stick around this roster, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see a team show interest in him and give him a shot. Alexander, on the other hand, has impressed me. He appears to have great quickness and good speed and we know he knows how to play the position because he was Iowa State’s fourth all-time leading rusher. Alexander is also a native of Minneapolis, so it’d be a fun story to have him stick around either on the 53-man roster if the Vikings decide to keep four RBs or even on the practice squad to see if he can develop.
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