Vikings running backs, even Peterson, must work on blocking
MANKATO, Minn. (AP) After an absence from NFL activity that spanned seven months, Adrian Peterson has returned as Minnesota's featured runner.
But before he resumes his familiar role of carrying the ball, there's one more thing he must do: pass protection.
''Do I like it? No. But I've been out of football for a year. I feel like it's something that is going to be important for me to get back out there,'' Peterson said. ''We have a great group of linebackers, so going against those guys in pass pro one-on-ones is going to be good for the group and for me to get back in the groove.''
With Peterson fresh from the unexpected time off - stemming from his child abuse case involving his young son - the Vikings have their franchise running back in place again even if he's in the twilight of his career.
Jerick McKinnon, who showed some potential as his rookie replacement, now has a year of experience in offensive coordinator Norv Turner's scheme. Matt Asiata and his nine touchdowns rushing were brought back as a shorter yardage option, too.
Running the ball and catching it should be strengths for this group. What has been a weakness in recent seasons has been the blocking. There will be plenty of plays, of course, when the running back in the game will be asked to serve as the last line of defense for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and the pass rushers he's facing.
''Keeping your shoulders square and not opening a window for him to cross your face to get in,'' Peterson said, explaining the proper technique. ''By all means, even if you've got to trip him, making sure he stays away from Teddy.''
Asiata is considered the best pass blocker among Minnesota's running backs, but even he, with his 6-foot, 220-pound frame and physical style, has not mastered the skill.
''I'm still working on it,'' Asiata said. ''It all starts with practice. You've got to put that on film. That's pretty much your resume. That's what the coaches want to see: protecting the quarterback. It's very important because it's a passing league and you never know what you're going to get. You've got a blitz coming. You've got big guys coming after the quarterback. You have to chip. You've really got to protect him.''
There's no more important rule for effective pass protection by a running back than making sure to use the feet to block, rather than leading or lunging with the upper body.
''Sometimes I find myself leaning. I'm ready for the contact. I'm a smaller guy,'' McKinnon said. ''But you can't always expect the bull rush. You get caught leaning on your toes, and you'll get hit with a swim move. So I've just got to sit back and trust in the technique.''
As a triple-option quarterback at the FCS level with Georgia Southern, McKinnon has had a lot of catching up to do on pass protection in his transition to the NFL.
''Just practice, practice, practice,'' he said.
For Peterson and Asiata and the rest of the running backs, too.
''We've got some more work to do with those guys,'' coach Mike Zimmer said.
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