Backups being pushed to the background again
Matt Asiata (Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY)
Matt Asiata (Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY)
The Associated Press
Posted Dec 20, 2013

The Vikings relied on some inexperienced talent to beat Philadelphia, but their starters are re-emerging from the training room and hoping to play again Sunday.

Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart will likely be back on the field soon for Minnesota, and that means Matt Asiata will be pushed to the background again.

He’ll take his important-but-basically-invisible spot on special teams and otherwise stand on the sideline while the offense is working, a third-string tailback simply waiting for a chance to carry the ball that may or may not come again.

Last Sunday, the opportunities were there. Thirty of them. Asiata took three in for touchdowns.

He held on tight each time, avoiding any fumbles and helping the Vikings burn through valuable time on the clock on their way to a 48-30 victory over division-leading Philadelphia. Asiata totaled only 51 yards for a paltry 1.7-yards-per-attempt average, but his already-sizable fan club in the Vikings locker room expanded during that bittersweet afternoon for the 26-year-old.

“I look at it as a blessing, just getting the opportunity to show the coaches what I can do and help this offense out,” Asiata said.

Asiata’s father, Pita, was killed in October when the tour bus he was driving collided with a utility truck near the Nevada-Utah line.

“My dream was to make it in the NFL, and I wish my dad was here to witness it,” Asiata said softly after the win over the Eagles.

He was undrafted out of Utah in 2011 and cut in training camp by the Vikings. He worked in an industrial supply warehouse that season instead, staying in shape for his next chance, and the Vikings gave him another one in 2012.

He made the team as the backup to fullback Jerome Felton and carved out a niche on special teams, and 15 months later there he was making a key block on Cordarrelle Patterson’s 79-yard go-ahead touchdown reception in the final minute at Baltimore. Peterson’s sprained foot that day moved Asiata up on the depth chart, and Gerhart’s hamstring injury near end of that game put Asiata on top the following week.

“We were all so fired up for him,” quarterback Matt Cassel said. “There’s a lot of talented people that sometimes don’t get that opportunity, and I was just happy for him that he did get an opportunity to play.”

Those opportunities can be fleeting, and Asiata wasn’t the only one last Sunday whose extensive playing time could wind up being the most of their careers. Tight end Chase Ford filled in with Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson out and caught both passes thrown his way for 55 yards.

“Coach Frazier always talks about the next man up. When you get your opportunities to make a play, you have to make it,” Ford said.

Then there’s cornerback Shaun Prater, cut by the Eagles two months ago. He was in the starting lineup against Philadelphia with Chris Cook, Xavier Rhodes and Josh Robinson all injured. Cook is on track to return this Sunday at Cincinnati, leaving one less open spot in the lineup.

Prater intercepted a pass at the 5-yard line with the Vikings leading 24-9 in the third quarter last Sunday. He switched receivers he was covering during the play, which allowed him to surprise quarterback Nick Foles by leaping in front of DeSean Jackson to snag the ball.

“Usually that’s a guy who has been playing a while and has been in that situation a number of times that makes that play, but his awareness and his acute alertness to what needed to happen was impressive to see,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “He made some other plays, too, that just shows you that he’s a very aware guy and a very smart football player.”

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