A Young Viking May Have Gotten Demoted this Week

The Vikings National
Nov 20, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell comes off the field after the second quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

In a lot of ways, football is a zero sum game.

Welcoming Cam Akers to the roster means the Vikings must subtract someone from the roster. In a technical sense, that has already happened since Jalen Nailor has been kicked over to the IR so he can recover. When it comes to a player’s actual role, though, the most notable impact may be for a young Viking: running back Ty Chandler.

Kevin O’Connell has noted that Akers isn’t going to be able to go in Week 3 since he’s just getting to town (shout out to Ben Goessling), but the new RB was brought in for a reason. It’s not as if he’s here to replace an injured RB. Instead, he’s here to contribute on offense while functioning as direct competition for playing time.

A Young Viking May Have Been Demoted

During the offseason, Kevin O’Connell expressed some concern about his sophomore running back.

Chart before Final Preseason
Aug 10, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Ty Chandler (32) carries the ball while being defended by Seattle Seahawks linebacker Jon Rhattigan (59) after making a catch during the first half at Lumen Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports.

Per O’Connell, the issue has sometimes been that Chandler can struggle with being consistent: “Picked up really where he left off as far as his ability when the lights come on to sometimes turn into a different guy. Now I want to see it every single day and really see him be consistent because he’s proven when it goes live and it’s real football he’s a tough guy to bring to the ground.”

The glass-half-full crowd can certainly draw out lots of positives in the coach’s words, but there’s also a challenge in there from O’Connell.

Aug 19, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell looks on during the third quarter against the Tennessee Titans at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

Making things appear a bit more bleak for Chandler are the recent words from Wes Phillips.

The offensive coordinator began his press conference by praising Akers, drawing attention to the RB’s talent as well as the familiarity with each other given their shared time working for the Rams. In response to a question about whether the team needed more help at RB, Phillips was a bit evasive: “For the most part, we’re always trying to look to add talent to the roster. Cam’s a guy that we feel like can do that for us.”

“We haven’t lost confidence in Alex Mattison,” Phillips explains, “I will say that.” Not too long afterwards, Phillips suggests that he’s also confident in Chandler, but the NFL is a spot where actions speak louder than words. Coaches can say they still have confidence but if there aren’t snaps and/or touches given to someone than the reality is probably different from what’s being said.

Possible RB of the Future Returns to Vikings from IR
Aug 14, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Ty Chandler. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports.

After a couple games, Kirk Cousins is the team’s second-leading rusher. The QB1 who isn’t known for his mobility has a trio of carries and he has picked up 7 yards. Ty Chandler is coming in at third for rushing yards, turning his 4 carries into 0 yards.

So, not a particularly inspiring start for the sophomore running back.

Bringing Akers to town isn’t an indication that Chandler’s time in Minnesota is kaput. Obviously, that’d be sizable overreaction. It is notable, though, that the Vikings have opted for a young, talented RB who already knows plenty about the offense that the team’s coaching staff will be leaning on. Akers should be able to hop into game action by Week 4.

Oct 30, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) hands the ball off to running back Alexander Mattison (2) against the Arizona Cardinals in the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

The Vikings value Mattison for more than just his running; Mattison also offers some silky mitts to partner with his powerful running. He has turned 10 targets into 6 catches, 21 yards, and a TD. Those who can remember Mattison’s touchdown catch will know that it was a remarkable effort that reveals why the team’s leadership appreciates him. Just sensational compete and toughness on that one.

Chandler, we should note, has turned 3 targets into 3 catches and 27 yards. Again, the talent is there, but will the coaching staff keep giving him chances on offense?

With Kene Nwangwu sidelined due to injury, Chandler has been the KR1 in Minnesota. Chandler has brought a single kick back, picking up 15 yards in the process. His 12 plays on special teams come close to matching his 18 plays on offense. The Akers addition may involve Chandler focusing more on just his special teams job.

Over the next couple games, keep an eye on the running back rotation. In all likelihood, Mattison is still going to be the team’s RB1, so it’ll be the carries that get divvied up beyond him that offer some mystery.

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.