Friday, February 27, 2015
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toby gerhart

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LeGarrette Blount was arguably the most talented rusher in the 2010 draft class at the time and he arguably still is at the NFL level.  Punching out an opponent on the field, however, was one of a few reasons he went undrafted and had to watch teams trade around in the first two rounds to get the rusher they wanted.

One of those trades was between the Vikings and the Texans when the Vikings moved up to get Toby Gerhart.  In the moments following the draft there were unconfirmed reports that Blount agreed to an undrafted free agent contract with both the Vikings and the Niners, but he ended up signing with the Titans.  He then became the second undrafted rookie to ever run for 1,000 yards when he was claimed off waivers by Tampa Bay.

There were other character concerns surrounding Blount in Tampa.  There was a report of him leading an attack on a Bucs fan.  In 2013, the New England Patriots sent a seventh rounder to Tampa and added Blount to their stable of running backs where he flashed his usual toughness, but often got lost in the mix.

Mark Craig of the Startribune doesn’t seem to think the Vikings need to rush things at the running back position. But, with Toby Gerhart gone and Matt Asiata as the next man up, I’m just a dainty bit concerned. My curiosity as to what GM Rick Spielman might have up his sleeve pertaining to the backup tailback position has got the best of me. In Craig’s recent article, he shares an interesting quote from Spielman about the possibility of adding another ball carrier.

“I know you can’t go into the season with just two running backs,” Spielman said. “So that’s an area that we’ve talked about a couple of running backs that are currently out on the market. But we’ve also honed in on a couple of backs in the draft as well.”

 

The free agency free-for-all is less than a week away and the Vikings have finally started to show signs of life here recently.

On Wednesday, they informed running back Matt Asiata that he would be tendered as an exclusive rights free agent.  As a result, Asiata will play under a one year deal worth $570,000.  According to the Pioneer Press, Asiata’s agent first learned of the team’s intentions during the NFL Scouting Combine, but the move hardly comes as a surprise to anyone involved.

Asiata is 26 years old and finally got to see some real NFL action towards the end of last season when both Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart were injured.  He ended the season with 44 carries for 166 yards (3.8 yard average) and three touchdowns.  All three touchdowns came in one game against Philadelphia, less than two months after he tragically lost his father.

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Following the 42-14 beatdown at the hands of the Bengals there is little else for Vikings fans to look forward to than next season.  We will soon be in all-out optimism mode as staff comes and goes, free agency heats up, and the NFL Draft infuses the roster with new blood.  This roster certainly doesn’t lack youthful talent, however, and these young playmakers give us all reason to hope for a quick turnaround and an immediate return to the playoffs.

One of those players that has me particularly excited is running back Bradley Randle who signed with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent, out of Nevada – Las Vegas, and has returned to the team’s practice squad after spending most of the NFL season training in California and spending time with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.  On December 11th the Vikings finally re-signed Randle to their practice squad and he was immediately asked to emulate Philadelphia running back LeSean McCoy in practice to help the defense prepare.  The results were quite positive.

Now, most of you that have been reading my rants for some time now know that I am always quick to stump for a “scat back” in purple, as I feel that particular dimension in our offense has been missing for, well… a long, long time.  I’ve stumped for guys like Darren Sproles and Reggie Bush when they have been available, and I immediately got my hopes up following the 2013 Draft when news broke that the Vikings were bringing Randle in.

On Sunday, Randle was kind enough to spend some time answering some questions for VT, which was inspired by my curiosity as to why this guy seemed so popular with Vikings fans despite never having played in a game that mattered.

“Where else in the NFL is there a player that the fans love who has not played a single NFL regular game snap?” Randle told me.  “That is how great these fans are.”

“They are making history based off of the love in their hearts for a person like me,” he continued.  “An underdog.”

Randle is indeed an underdog.  With Adrian Peterson sitting atop the Vikings depth chart in a shatter-proof throne, Randle has to prove his worth as a backup to Peterson and on special teams, but don’t think Peterson’s stardom impacts Randle’s confidence.

“I am one of the best running backs in the NFL,” he was quick to tell me.  “I have Adrian Peterson as my mentor.  That is like having Walter Payton or Herschel Walker teaching you. He calls me ‘Mini Me.’  People began to call me ‘Lil AP’ and now big AP calls me that too.  This is because God has made me great.”

“Who is better than me besides my mentor Adrian Peterson himself?  The answer is ‘nobody,'” Randle said just before insisting he’ll be a mainstay on the Vikings roster next year.  “Just because I am great does not mean I will make the active roster.  It means I will take a spot on the active roster.”

The most noticeable thing about Randle and his Twitter account is how much he just genuinely seems to love the team that continues to give him chances.  I don’t think I have ever seen a player so outwardly loving of his team and their fanbase, and the uncanny thing about that was that it continued through the months following his release.  Even when he wasn’t a part of the team he acted like he was.

“To become a loved player on a team that has the best fans in the world has been emotional and inspiring,” Randle stated.  “It would be lovely to retire in Minnesota because now I play for fans as well.  I used to only play for God and my team.  Now the fans are a part of my heart.”

Randle’s return to Minnesota’s practice squad was well received by Vikings fans and Randle seems to appreciate the support he received from the fans.  He thinks that is something the front office will pay attention to down the stretch.

“The fans have power,” he claims.  “When the Vikings called me back to be on the team, the Vikings staff certainly heard the excitement of the fans.  The fans became excited again when there was not much to be excited about after missing out on making the playoffs this year.”

I asked Randle about the special teams hit that catapulted him into national highlight reels while at UNLV and he said he has always been a hard hitter and that he comes from a family full of hard hitters.  His father, Lenny Randle, was the MVP for the New York Mets in 1978.  While he also excels in baseball, Randle tells me that the NFL is where his heart is.

“Football is my sport of choice because of the purple warrior blood in my veins.”

I asked Randle about some of his Rebel brothers that he left behind.  With UNLV appearing in a bowl game, and Rick Spielman clearly trying to pair up college teammates on his roster, is there a chance we could see another Rebel with the Vikings next year and who does Randle think we should be keeping an eye on?

He mentioned nose tackle Nate Holloway, a large nose tackle that went undrafted in the 2013 supplemental draft, as well as defensive lineman James Boyd.  A fellow running back in Elijhaa Penny was also singled out by Randle.  Additionally, he described Kenny Brown as “a hard hitting defensive back.”  Time will tell if any other Rebels are in Spielman’s scope.

At the end of our conversation I asked Randle who he modeled his game after.  With him being listed at 5′ 7″ and 190 pounds I expected to hear him say Darren Sproles or someone of that sort.  Instead, Randle told me he runs like some of the toughest the game has ever seen, and seems to shrug off the idea that he can’t be a power runner.

Gale Sayers and Adrian Peterson. Both are gasher backs,” he said.  “LeSean McCoy is a slasher. We are gashers.”

 The Vikings are set to tangle with the division rival Chicago Bears this weekend at the Metrodome. It’s a game that usually has me buzzing all week most seasons… not so much this year.

 The Vikings match up pretty well with the Bears this time around and actually have a solid chance to win this game. Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart are coming off a combined season high 239 yards rushing on 40 carries last week at Lambeau Field and you can expect to see more of the same again this week.

The Bears are giving up 4.9 yards per carry and currently ranked 32nd in the NFL in rushing defense allowing 145.2 yards per game. Last week the Bears’ defense let the Rams run the ball 29 times for 258 yards. That’s a whopping 8.9 yards per carry! Ouch.

 So, why am I not trash and smack talking to all the Bears fans I work with? I guess because maybe it’s a meaningless game. Or, maybe I’ve just thrown in the towel on this disheartening season? In any case, my psychologist told me that I just need to forget about wins and losses, draft positions, coaching fixes, injuries and arrests… and just focus on enjoying a good football game.

The last Vikings game I really got fired up to enjoy was way back in week two. I was seated one row from the top at Soldier Field during a rainy contest that unfortunately saw the Vikings fall short to the Bears in the final seconds of an exciting 30-31 ballgame. Yes, I know first hand that when these two teams get together it will usually result in an entertaining affair.

I’m counting on another engaging contest between the Vikings and the Bears this Sunday. A week 13 win just seems fitting. Wins have been few and far between lately… so why not enjoy this one? Punching the Bears in the mouth would be the highlight of the year for me.  Wouldn’t it be nice to see the Metrodome really rocking one last time? And, I think the Vikings can win one more game and still land a quality, gritty, big-armed senior QB like Fresno State’s Derek Carr or LSU’s Zach Mettenberger come draft time.

 Go Vikings! My pulse still beats for the purple.

 

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