Since free agency started, the Vikings have lost two of their unrestricted free agents and re-signed…
Albert Young: ‘It's a position I want'
While Vikings fans are concerned about the potential void that has been created by the free-agent loss of Chester Taylor, it has created an opportunity for running back Albert Young to step in and show the coaching staff that he already had Taylor's replacement in-house before he left for greener pastures in Chicago.
Young is the second-most vested player in the Vikings backfield behind starter Adrian Peterson. An undrafted free agent in 2008, Young was one of the stories of training camp and the preseason, playing very well when given the opportunity. When he didn't make the final cut, he was released with the knowledge that the Vikings were going to re-sign him to the practice squad. In 2009, he made the 53-man roster, but with both Peterson and Taylor in front of him, he saw action sparingly with the Vikings offense.
With Taylor gone and, to date, nobody being brought in with the specific intention of filling that role, Young is currently the frontrunner to be the third-down back and blocking back for what is hoped to be a return trip through the league for Brett Favre. Young said he is excited about the challenge, but is trying not to put too much pressure on himself to change what he has been doing that has impressed the coaching staff so far.
"I'm just trying to build on the things I've been doing," Young said. "You can't get out of body. You can't get out of yourself. You just hope (the opportunity) will be there."
When Taylor signed with Chicago, Young was bumped up the depth chart, a position he retains – at least for the time being. The Vikings made a full-court press run at future Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson and the potential exists that the Vikings will use a draft pick on a running back next week. But Young said his focus through the offseason – he only took a couple of weeks off after the season ended in late January – has been to prepare as though he will be the second line of offense behind A.D. in the Vikings' backfield.
"You can only control the things that you control yourself," Young said. "That's not my department. I'm sure they could bring somebody in (as a free agent) or (draft) a rookie, but I doubt they will be as good as Chester Taylor. The roles are definitely going to change in the backfield because we don't have two starting backs."
Young had reason to be concerned about Tomlinson potentially joining the Vikings. The organization was serious about signing him and, according to reports, ended up offering more money than the Jets. The reason L.T. chose New York was because he felt he had a better chance to get a lot of field time with the Jets as opposed to being Peterson's backup. The signing became a double-source of amusement for Young. First, he dodged a bullet and kept his No. 2 spot on the depth chart. Second, Tomlinson will be competing with Shonn Greene for playing time with the Jets. The significance? Young and Greene were college teammates at Iowa and remain close. While the Vikings may not have been happy about Tomlinson's decision, it's been the source of good-natured alumni ribbing between Young and Green. But Young said he had to be prepared for L.T. to join the Vikings, because, just as Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels had to take a back seat when Favre arrived, he had to be ready to accept his demotion. Admittedly, he was happy when it happened.
"I told my boy Shonn that's his problem now," Young said with a laugh. "I didn't really care because I can't control that. The team is always going to better (itself) and you can't take it personal. You can never have enough talent on the team so it was only natural for them to go take a look at him."
Young said he has been working out this offseason with the mindset of seeing considerably more playing time. While he advanced from the practice squad to the 53-man roster last year, he wasn't a difference-maker that he believes he can be in 2010 if given the chance. He was on the roster last year, but playing behind Peterson and Taylor is like being a backup to Favre – you don't see the field often.
"Last year, I think was only active for seven games," Young said. "The workload is going to be a whole lot more to be out there every week and get a significant amount of snaps every game."
It took Taylor leaving to open the door for Young to make a lasting impression, but Young said he has learned more about the NFL game from Taylor than just about anyone else he has come in contact with. Taylor could have sulked and demanded a trade when the team signed Adrian Peterson, but he was a consummate pro. He worked hard. He worked on his own. He conditioned additionally after practice. It made an impression on Young and he will carry that with him the rest of his career.
"He really understood the little intricacies of the offense," Young said. "He may not always tell you because of the guy that Chester is, but now I'm getting a better understanding of what's going on with the offensive line and the quarterback. Now I realize Chester really knew what was going on. The way he approached it, coach would ask a question and Chester would answer it before he even got it out of his mouth. It was about work ethic."
Young said that while he learned from Taylor, he saw his opportunity with the Vikings entailing eventually replacing him. When he signed as an undrafted free agent in 2008, he knew Taylor's contract expired in 2009. He had a three-year plan – make the team in 2008, learn the game in 2009 and be ready to get noticed in 2010. To date, the pieces have fallen into place. Now comes the hard part – making good on the biggest of those challenges this year.
"That was part of my plan when I signed here originally," Young said. "I knew Chester's contract was going to be up. That was a part of the plan. It's not like the job's mine. We have a lot of people. It's easy to say because I've been here the longest. It's an opportunity that is there and it's a position I want. Now it's just time for me to act upon it."
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.
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