New Vikings Starter Is Ready for a Heavy Workload

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The Minnesota Vikings underwent many personnel changes in the offseason, the second one in Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s reign. His task was obvious. He tried to eliminate some aging players, especially those with bloated contracts. Adam Thielen, Eric Kendricks, Za’Darius Smith, and Patrick Peterson are all gone, just like star running back Dalvin Cook, who was replaced by backup Alexander Mattison.

New Vikings Starter Is Ready for a Heavy Workload

New Vikings Starter Is Ready for a Heavy Workload
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Mattison was Cook’s replacement for four years, and with Cook on the team during free agency, it was logical expectation for Mattison to seek other opportunities. However, he re-signed with the purple team and received a solid deal for a player who has never been a starter, $7 million for two seasons.

The contract appeared too steep for a backup behind an expensive bell cow runner on a pass-heavy team. It all made more sense when the Vikings released Cook in June, making Mattison a cheap starter instead of a pricey backup.

During the first preseason action for the 2023 Vikings, Mattison was rested like most starters, but he was interviewed on the sideline by Ben Leber, who asked him about his expectations for the upcoming season in the new role.

Just really understanding what the opportunity I have in front of me is, just understanding that I’m going to go into this season preparing like a pro and just getting ready for a heavy workload, being the bell cow, and just bringing that downhill fast and physical run style, and just trying to bring that within the running back room, just to be the legs of this football team.

Alexander Mattison

Unlike Cook, who excelled because of his exciting cuts and speed, Mattison is more of a power runner, so he is right to intent to bring a ‘physical’ run style. He drew some criticism in the past when he tried to run like Cook instead of doing what he does best.

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In four seasons, Mattison rushed 404 times for 1,670 yards and 11 touchdowns. His numbers were more interesting when Cook didn’t play, and it was the Mattison show. In those six games, Mattison fired up 477 yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground, adding 23 catches for 216 yards and 2 scores through the air, resulting in absolutely fabulous numbers proving his three-down ability.

A running back alone can’t do much on the field. It needs the whole team’s efforts to help create a functioning rushing attack. Mattison also discussed how the Vikings want to achieve that in the upcoming season.

A more physical mindset. A more physical front. The offensive line is definitely more physical. The feeling that we have now so far in training camp is we’re doing a lot more drills and using those formations [with] C.J. [Ham], of course, Josh Oliver. Just being a lot more physical and making sure that we are on the other side of the line of scrimmage when we snap that ball.

Alexander Mattison

What stands out is clearly the word physical. Pushing around opponents is the easiest way to establish a dominant running game, and that is the plan of the Vikings. It remains to be seen if that is successful.

Baltimore Ravens tight end Josh Oliver (84) is embraced by center Tyler Linderbaum (64), right, as Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews (89), left, looks on after Oliver scored a touchdown during the fourth quarter of a regular season NFL football matchup Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022, at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville. The Jaguars edged the Ravens 28-27. [Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union]

What should be happening a lot is heavier formations than in the first season of Kevin O’Connell’s offense. That is why the Vikings signed Josh Oliver, a fantastic run-blocker, and re-signed C.J. Ham. Having two tight ends and/or fullback Ham on the field should help the running game but also open up the passing game for the deadly connection of Kirk Cousins to Justin Jefferson because defenses have to adjust and send extra guys into the box.

Another positive effect of the addition of Oliver is the increased flexibility of the offense. The unit can now gameplan for opponents and play to their weaknesses. O’Connell can now pick between the light 11-personnel (three wideouts) that he ran a lot in 2022 or heavier personnel groups with two or more tight ends, and Ham will get more run.

Mattison has a great opportunity to prove the Vikings right by naming him the starter. He will work as the top guy but should receive help from his backups. Ty Chandler looked great in the first preseason game.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt