The Vikings had their full team training camp practice Wednesday. We're previewing camp with a look at each position group. Today: Running backs.
Running backs: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Kene Nwangwu, Ty Chandler, Bryant Koback
Fullbacks: C.J. Ham, Jake Bargas
In: Chandler (fifth-round pick), Koback (undrafted free agent)
The deepest position on the roster should help coach Kevin O'Connell and the Vikings' new offense better maneuver the fine line between maximizing Cook's special talent and versatility while not overworking a 210-pound guy who enters his sixth season with 1,300 NFL touches. A top-3 NFL back when healthy, Cook missed four games last season and never has played more than 14 games in a season. Mattison, a 24-year-old who could start for a number of NFL teams, is coming off career highs in carries (134), catches (32), yards from scrimmage (719) and touchdowns (4), although his season average per carry dropped to 3.7 from 4.6 and 4.5 his first two years.
Behind them are two of the fastest players in the league.
In somewhat of a surprise move, the Vikings this year drafted another speedy back in Chandler. He has return skills and also can be a threat as a receiver out of the backfield.
At fullback, O'Connell's love for Ham's ability and versatility seems quite genuine. And that could help the former Rams offensive coordinator add some unexpected wrinkles to the three-receiver-heavy offense he brings with him from Los Angeles.
No. 3 back. Handled the right way and blessed with good health, this group could be as potent, productive and versatile as any backfield in the league. It's assumed Mattison will be Cook's primary backup, but how O'Connell uses Nwangwu and Chandler will be intriguing to watch, considering the limited number of opportunities this offense will present for young backs down the depth chart. The speed these two guys have should earn them some looks. They can't afford to whiff and/or fumble when called on in training camp and the preseason.
Player to Watch
Cook. Justin Jefferson can celebrate all he wants by saying, "This is not a run-first offense anymore," but the star receiver and his passing game won't reach its explosive best without Cook shining to some considerable degree, as well. Neither Kirk Cousins nor the offensive line can be trusted to handle the crushing pass rush that will come with a one-dimensional offense that views Cook only as an afterthought. Cook won't get 312 carries like he did two years ago when Mike Zimmer started 1-5 and rode Cook back into playoff contention. But Cook shouldn't have to carry the ball 300 times to be effective in this offense. Look for him to challenge his career-high 53 receptions in 2019 in O'Connell's offense.
One Big Question
How will Cook be used in the passing game? We've grown accustomed to seeing Cook as one of the league's more dangerous threats in the screen game. He'll no doubt continue to get those looks, but how much will he line up in the slot or out wide? And how will the Vikings use him in those roles? O'Connell is hoping to keep the answers to those questions a secret until the season opener against the Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium. In fact, when local reporters mentioned early in OTAs that Cook was lining up more outside in O'Connell's offense, the coach gathered the media to request that it not reveal specific schematics observed in practices open only to the media.