Percy Harvin (Andy King/AP)
The Vikings have struggled to replace Chester Taylor with two relatively inexperienced backup running backs, especially when it comes to pass protection, but the coaches continue to say that several areas are to blame for inconsistent protection. Plus, the injury report grows larger with the addition of Percy Harvin.
The Vikings have what is typically considered the best running back in football in Adrian Peterson … and then a couple of other options that haven’t produced as hoped to this point.
The Vikings knew going into the season that they were taking a risk without Chester Taylor, who signed with the Chicago Bears in free agency. Minnesota pursued LaDainian Tomlinson, who turned down their offer for a better opportunity and more familiarity with the New York Jets.
What remains behind Peterson are a couple of big question marks.
“I don’t think we ever saw it as a luxury having Chester. We counted on him and he was somebody that played well for us and did a great job for us,” offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “It’s not somebody that we took for granted at all. The couple guys that we have behind Adrian, they’re still young. They’re still learning behind Adrian and we’re trying to get them up to speed as fast as we can, get them into situations to be successful.
“… We’re still waiting for the guys to step up, take hold of it and say, ‘Hey, this is my job and I’m not giving it back.’”
To date, neither second-year pro Albert Young (who also spent a season on the practice squad) or rookie second-round draft pick Toby Gerhart have done that. Here is what the Vikings would have left if – shudder the thought – Peterson would go down to injury: a combination that has provided 13 carries for 35 yards through five games.
In Gerhart’s case, Vikings coach Brad Childress indicated that he’s making strides as he gets acclimated to the offense.
“He’s coming. He took a lot of turns out here today and you’ll never know until he gets to take those turns,” Childress said.
The backups’ impact goes beyond the running game, where Gerhart has carried 10 times for 33 yards. In the last few games, Vikings fans have been witness to a few missed blocks that were called out during the television broadcast crews as being the fault of the backup running backs. Bevell said it’s different problems at different time, including QB Brett Favre holding onto the ball too long at times.
“We’ve had some missed assignments from some of the younger backs as well,” Bevell said. “We’ve mis-declared a couple from just the offensive line getting us going in the right direction. (I’m) not going to pin it all on the running backs. We’ve had some different errors, whether it’s a running back, whether it’s a tight end in protection or whether it’s the offensive line. And sometimes it’s Brett’s job to get rid of the ball as well.”
The Vikings may have an even bigger task on Sunday night. The New York Jets are considered one of the most blitz-happy teams in the league, but the Packers have the NFL’s sack leader. Linebacker Clay Matthews leads the league with 8.5 sacks despite missing last week with hamstring injury.
“He’s really developed into a nice edge rusher. He can move speed to power. He’s got real long levers,” Vikings coach Brad Childress said. “He’s playing as an outside linebacker, but he bounces a little bit. They move him around and rush him on different sides. You have to account for him. Whether you call him a linebacker or a stand-up defensive end, at times he’s two different things to us, in just how we name him. He’s a good player and can overpower a running back or a tackle.”
As a team, the Packers are tied for second in the league with 21 sacks, another reason for the running backs to prepare for pickups.
“We’ve had some struggles; it’s something we continue to work on and try to improve and get it targeted right,” Bevell said.
HARVIN ADDED TO EXTENSIVE INJURY REPORT
Percy Harvin (hamstring) and Ryan Cook (wrist) were added to the injury report on Thursday. It’s the first time either of those players was listed with those ailments this year on the injury report, meaning they likely occurred during practice this week. The seriousness of either of them isn’t known, but both were limited in practice.
Safety Husain Abdullah (concussion) continued to sit out practice on Thursday. On Wednesday, Childress said Abdullah was still “foggy” after suffering a concussion in the first half of Sunday’s game. Jarmarca Sanford would likely take Abdullah’s spot at strong safety Sunday night against the Packers.
All total, the Vikings had a dozen players listed on their injury report. TE Jim Kleinsasser (groin), CB Lito Sheppard (hand), CB Chris Cook (knee), OL Chris DeGeare (ankle), LB E.J. Henderson (knee), C John Sullivan (calf) and QB Brett Favre (elbow/ankle) were limited. Most of those are likely to be available Sunday, but Sullivan’s status is probably in the most doubt, although he was taking reps in practice Thursday, including some with the first team.
DE Brian Robison (ankle) and DT Letroy Guion (toe) were upgraded from limited on Wednesday to full participation Thursday.
The Packers had 13 players listed on their injury report, including DE Mike Neal and LB Brady Poppinga, who have already been declared out.
WR Donald Driver (quadriceps), CB Charles Woodson (toe) and OL Marshall Newhouse (back) did not participate Thursday.
S Nick Collins (knee), LB A.J. Hawk (groin), LB Brandon Chillar (shoulder), LB Clay Matthews (hamstring), DE Ryan Pickett (ankle) and T Mark Tauscher (shoulder) were limited. T Chad Clifton (knee) and DE Cullen Jenkins (hand) were upgraded to full participants on Thursday.
QB Brett Favre continues to practice this week without a sleeve on his throwing elbow, which he said is feeling better after receiving a cortisone shot to reduce the inflammation caused by tendinitis. Favre wore a sleeve on the elbow last week, but hasn’t been wearing one during games.
Fans remember the last time Randy Moss played for the Vikings in Lambeau Field. He had four catches for 70 yards and two touchdowns in the 2004 playoffs, but the more memorable moment was when he gave the fake moon to the Lambeau Field crowed. Bevell was the quarterback coach on the Green Bay sidelines for that game, but he was staying away from talking about that incident. “I remember that Minnesota won. I remember that game. I won’t say much else,” Bevell said.
Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said he is keeping his focus on the Vikings, despite his name being mentioned as a potential candidate for the Gophers head-coaching job. “In my heart, I feel like I can be a head coach,” Frazier said. “My focus is really on what we’re doing here in Minnesota with the Vikings and really trying to win a championship. I haven’t given any thought to collegiate football or professional football as far as being a head coach at this point. It’s so hard to get a win in our league, you don’t want to have anything to split your focus and that’s where my attention is, really on helping us get a win against Green Bay.”
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.