PRO FOOTBALL: Vikings kick backup tires during Peterson's absence
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Adrian Peterson's absence from Thursday's non-mandatory organized team activity was a good thing for a Minnesota Vikings team still sorting through how it intends to handle the potentially expanded running back roles behind their perennial All-Pro workhorse starter.
Without Peterson, third-year pro Matt Asiata and rookie third-round draft pick Jerick McKinnon were able to share the job while displaying two completely different skill sets.
Asiata, a 6-foot, 234-pound former fullback, is a battering ram with good power running straight ahead. He can catch the ball, but is better used in pass protection when on the field in passing situations.
McKinnon, meanwhile, is a former triple-option quarterback from Georgia Southern. A small-school jack-of-all-trades athlete who even played some cornerback, he now steps in as the shiftier change-of-pace third-down back that offensive coordinator Norv Turner covets for his schemes.
"We have a couple different types of backs," coach Mike Zimmer said. "(Jerick) has a chance to do a lot of different things. Matt is kind of an all-purpose guy. He's a good runner, good protector.
"He's probably not as explosive as (McKinnon) is, or Adrian, but he can take some punishment, he can give some punishment. I've been really impressed with the way he's worked in the weight room this offseason. So actually, we're always looking for different types of backs. We're not always looking for the same guy. You want to have a change-of-pace guy, you want to have a guy who can catch the ball out of the backfield and obviously you want to have Peterson."
Peterson's heavy workload throughout his career has decreased the value of his backups. Toby Gerhart, for instance, was a guy the Vikings traded up in the second round to select in 2010. But he ended up with only 276 carries over four seasons before moving on to Jacksonville as a free agent this offseason. Over the past two seasons, Peterson had 541 more carries than Gerhart.
Peterson, however, is 29 now. And if age wasn't enough reason to start distributing the reps a little more, consider that Peterson also has had three surgeries in the past three years. After bouncing back from his torn ACL near the end of the 2011 season, Peterson has had hernia and groin surgeries the past two years.
Peterson remains the focal point of the offense, but it is time to start working in the wide range of talents that the other two running backs possess. That's easier to do when Peterson isn't around.
- Seven career interceptions in five seasons doesn't make new Vikings starting cornerback Captain Munnerlyn the next Deion Sanders, but it does put him seven career picks ahead of Chris Cook, his predecessor in Minnesota.
Munnerlyn also excels when it comes to turning interceptions into quick points. At least he did when he was with Carolina. Five of his seven picks, including all four that he made the past two seasons, were returned for touchdowns.
"I think it's my punt return skills coming into play," Munnerlyn said. "That's something I pride myself on. It seems like every time I get the ball, I end up in the end zone. Me being a punt returner, all I see are offensive lineman out there when I intercept the ball. I figure, `Man, if I get past these receivers, there's no offensive lineman who is going to tackle me.'"
Ironically, in 75 career punt returners, Munnerlyn hasn't scored. His longest return is a 37-yarder and his average is 9.0.
Munnerlyn, 26, hasn't returned punts or kicks since 2012 and doesn't sound like he's eager to go back to doing that. He has been working as a backup punt returner during OTAs. Marcus Sherels, who was second in the league in punt returns with a franchise-record 15.2-yard average last season, probably will keep the job, although he could be on the roster bubble again as the Vikings look to upgrade at his other position, cornerback.
"Oooh, I don't know about returning punts (this year)," Munnerlyn said. "That was back in my younger days. This is my sixth year. I don't know if the body can hold up and take all those hits."
- Coach Mike Zimmer spoke at the NFL career development symposium last week, telling the group of potential head coaches and general managers not to give up on their dreams. Like he almost did when the Vikings called him back for a second interview in January.
Zimmer said he had gotten so discouraged by losing yet another head coaching opportunity that he considered pulling his name out of consideration for the Vikings job. Although Zimmer didn't name the team that disappointed him, it was certainly the Titans. Zimmer was returning from an interview with Tennessee when he found out that the Titans had just hired Ken Whisenhunt.
It was at that point that he considered pulling out of the running for the Vikings job. He's glad he didn't because the now-58-year-old finally landed his first head coaching job in Minnesota.
"It had nothing to do with the Vikings; it was just kind of the feeling of a loss," Zimmer said of almost pulling himself out of consideration for the Vikings job. "I was trying to get over it, and you just have to go about your business."
Zimmer called the Vikings job the "perfect fit."
"So thank God that I did (interview again)," Zimmer said. "I think what it does show you though is that you have to keep persevering all the time no matter how despondent you get it."
Star of Week: WR Adam Thielen -- It will be tough for Thielen to crack the 53-man roster as the team's fifth receiver, but the second-year longshot certainly is giving coaches something to think about during OTAs.
A 6-foot-2, 195-pounder from Division III Minnesota State Mankato, Thielen spent last season on the practice squad. He has always been deceptively fast, but also is thicker, stronger and a bit quicker this summer.
Thursday, he continued his offseason knack of sneaking behind defenders and making sure-handed catches deep downfield. On one particular play Thursday, he beat a defender into the right corner of the end zone, jumped high while controlling his body, caught the ball at its highest point and got one foot down just inbounds.