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Vikings RB Ty Chandler is earning trust and opportunity

Vikings' second-year running back has worked his way up to having a chance to take the lead running role

EAGAN — When Ty Chandler took the field for the 2022 preseason, it didn’t take a scouting genius to see the talent that got him drafted by the Minnesota Vikings. He flashed every bit of 4.38 40-yard dash speed, ran with patience and didn’t go down to the ground easily. In total he ran the ball 15 times and gained 115 yards.

But after his breakout preseason, Chandler suffered an injury and when he returned he was nowhere to be found in the Vikings backfield. When the dust settled on his rookie year, the former North Carolina star gained just 20 yards on six carries in the regular season.

Still there was optimism that he could put himself in the conversation for a rotational role with a strong training camp. The Vikings moved on from Dalvin Cook in the offseason and were set to lean on Alexander Mattison and whoever emerged between Chandler and Kene Nwangwu. Yet when the Vikings broke camp and started slowly in the running game with Mattison as RB1, they turned to acquiring Cam Akers from the Rams rather than leaning into the less experienced Chandler.

It wasn’t until Akers tore his Achilles in Atlanta that they were finally pressed into giving Chandler more snaps. Over the last two weeks, he has proven deserving of more playing time, gaining 45 yards on 13 runs against the Saints (with a long touchdown run negated by penalty) and then had his breakout game in Denver with 73 yards rushing on 10 carries and four receptions for 37 yards. One of the runs was an explosive fake punt and he flashed his blazing speed on a 19-yard catch on third-and-20.

Naturally the question coming out of Denver, considering how much the Vikings run game has struggled overall, was: Why hasn’t he been playing more?

The answer appears to be that the coaching staff wanted to let him develop until he was ready to be this version.

“He’s grown tremendously from when we had him as a rookie,” offensive coordinator Wes Phillips said. “Sometimes with a young player you are seeing the finished product over a year and a half of really learning the position, learning the game, learning the NFL game. He’s always been a talented player and we always knew that about him but it is a different path for everybody.”

Phillips pointed out that playing running back in the NFL is very different than college. Offenses have many more details to master and there is much more involved than just getting the football in Chandler’s hands and letting him run wild.

“We have to be ready to trust someone to put in the game,” Phillips said. “When you are a rookie it’s tough because you are coming into a league where terminology is way different, a lot more scheme, a lot more details, a lot more discipline with a lot more tracks. A lot of these guys are used to just being [shotgun] runs, lined up six yards back and run downhill and let my ability take over. Pass protection, he stepped up in there and was on the right guys this week. You keep building trust that way and get more opportunities.”

One of the most difficult parts of playing a larger role is pass protection. With teams likely to dial up pressure, as the Broncos did on Sunday, the coaches have to be certain that a young running back will be able to identify which rushers he is supposed to block.

“He was on top of pass protection,” Phillips said of Chandler’s blocking. “We are always going to continue to work fundamentals and technique on those things but he was on top of everything he needed to do.”

Chandler did allow a pressure that resulted in Josh Dobbs’ arm getting hit and the pass being intercepted but the assignment part was more important to the evaluation of his ability to handle the job going forward.

A significant part of Chandler’s development has happened on special teams. After playing a handful of snaps as a rookie in different roles, he has been in the game for 104 special teams plays this year and found a home in the backfield on punts. He has been involved in two successful fakes and played a key part in protecting punter Ryan Wright.

Special teams coordinator Matt Daniels said that Chandler advocated for the punt protector role.

“We started meeting heavily on it and I grew trust with him and how he went about it with his preparation,” Daniels said. “I felt great about it with him having the running back background and what it would do from a punt standpoint and opening up the fake opportunities of having a running back back there and a guy who understands protection and does a great job of communicating back there and being the quarterback of the punt team.”

Daniels and Chandler began meeting twice a week throughout the season.

“I’ve been impressed with how he prepares… constantly taking notes, constantly asking great questions and pushing the why behind the things we do. I love it as a coach,” Daniels said.

Now that Chandler appears ready to take the next step, how big will that step be? Against the Broncos, Mattison was still given the majority of reps, playing 48 snaps to Chandler’s 24. While Mattison had one of his best games outside of a key fumble that sparked the Broncos’ turnaround, the Vikings rank 26th in Expected Points Added and have lacked a spark in the backfield all season.

The numbers suggest that they have left a lot of yards on the field with their running game. PFF grades the Vikings sixth in run blocking and Mattison ranks 30th of 31 running backs in PFF grade (min. 100 carries) and has the seventh lowest Rushing Yards Over Expectation per carry in the NFL.

Will the Vikings lean into Chandler as they face one of the NFL’s best run defenses this week?

“He is an exciting player with the ball in his hands,” head coach Kevin O’Connell said. “We try to find different ways to get it in his hands throughout the game. He does play a critical role right now on our offense to be a featured player, we are continuing to add to his workload every single week because he has earned those opportunities. I feel great about where Ty is at just in year two of his career the progression from when we brought him in as a rookie las year to now.”