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We're only a couple of weeks away from the start of training camp, and while the uber-talented Vikings might not have a lot of overwhelming roster drama to take note of, one spot that is going to make folks take some notice is the battle for the third running back slot. Now, prior to this April's draft, this could have been the battle to see who was going to back-up the NFL's best running back (that Adrian Peterson fellow). However, the Vikings' selection of battering ram Toby Gerhart pretty much took care of that, as it's understood that Gerhart is going to be Peterson's primary backup. However, there are a quartet of folks that are going to be vying for the right to be the third running back, and they all bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table.
So who are these gentlemen, and who has the best chance to be that third guy? Let's take a look at the candidates.
Albert Young - 5'10", 210 pounds
Career Regular Season Numbers - 12 carries, 53 yards
It's only fair that we start with the incumbent in this race, and that would be Albert Young. He finally got his first NFL carries last season after languishing on the Vikings' practice squad for a couple of seasons, tallying two carries for 13 yards in the victory over the Cincinnati Bengals and 10 carries for 40 yards in garbage time of the season-ending blowout of the New York Giants.
The fact that Young has stuck with the Vikings for as long as he has obviously means the team likes him, and as the incumbent, one would have to think that he's the favorite to retain the job. Unfortunately, he's still a bit of an unknown quantity at this point. . .we don't know a lot about his running style, nor do we know a whole lot about his ability to pick up blitzes or things of that nature. We do know that in two pre-seasons with the team, he's carried the ball 79 times for 268 yards (3.4 yards/carry), but that was largely done running behind guys that are currently bagging groceries or selling insurance or something. It isn't a stretch to think that he could do better behind a starting NFL offensive line.
Ian Johnson - 5'11", 210 pounds
Career Regular Season Numbers - N/A
Coming out of Boise State as a rookie, Ian Johnson was pretty much known as the guy that scored the winning points in the Fiesta Bowl, and then proposed to his super-hot cheerleader girlfriend after the game was over). And after his first year in the NFL. . .well, that's what he's still known as. Johnson didn't tally a single carry last year for the Vikings in the regular season.
From all accounts, Johnson and Young are a lot alike. . .they're both smallish backs, and they're both taking time to adjust themselves to the NFL game. However, the Vikings had this choice to make last season, and when faced with the decision of whether to put Johnson or Young on the 53-man roster, the team chose Young. That, along with the increase in competition at the position, tells me that young Ian has a bit of an uphill climb to make the big club this year. The odds are better, I think, that he ends up on the practice squad for another year.
Ryan Moats - 5'8", 210 pounds
Career Regular Season Numbers - 204 carries, 831 yards, 8 TD; 20 catches, 127 yards, 1 TD
The "old man" of the group, Moats is going into his sixth year in the National Football League. He originally came into the league with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2005, where he played for two years. After missing the 2007 season, Moats played in Houston the past two years. Last year for the Texans, he carried the ball 101 times for 390 yards, good for second on the team in both categories. . .Houston had one of the worst rushing attacks in football last year. . .and four touchdowns. He also put together the Texans' best rushing performance of 2009, as he carried 23 times for 126 yards and 3 TDs in Houston's 31-10 triumph over the Buffalo Bills.
Moats is obviously the most proven commodity in this race, which could be both an advantage and a disadvantage. Yes, the coaching staff already knows what he's capable of, and by that same token they know that he doesn't really have a lot of room for growth. As they say, he is what he is. He falls under the same heading as the other backs in this race, in that he's on the smallish side and would be used as more of a change of pace from Peterson and Gerhart. Will his experience and his familiarity with the offense give him the edge to make the team?
Darius Reynaud - 5'9", 200 pounds
Career Regular Season Numbers - N/A
Hey, remember this guy? Yes, the Vikings talked of their intention to move Reynaud to running back early in the off-season, and to my knowledge that's still how they plan on using him. Reynaud has spent the last couple of years being used as a return man, but has shown some receiving skills in pre-season action. He played a little bit of running back in college at West Virginia, but he's quite a ways removed from that.
It's entirely possible that Reynaud has the most physical talent of the four players on this list. That being said, he has the farthest to go to be a viable option at the position. Yes, we know he can catch and we've seen what he can do in the open field. But he has more to learn about blitz pickup and hitting holes and things of that nature than the other three players on this list do. He has the talent to be on this roster somewhere, and I suppose it's possible that the Vikings could move him back to receiver if he doesn't work out at running back. . .we'll have to see how things shake out.
So, who do you folks think is going to back up Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart this season for the Vikings? If I were a betting man, I personally would have to say that the Vikings will stick with Albert Young. Moats is a solid possibility, Reynaud is a bit of a darkhorse, and Ian Johnson projects as a long shot. Feel free to discuss it below, and enjoy what's left of your weekend!