EAGAN, Minn. — The public window of 2022 Vikings Training Camp practices at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center will open July 30 with Back Together Saturday.
To get you ready for the return of football, we'll go through a position-by-position preview of the Vikings. We started Tuesday with quarterbacks and on Wednesday previewed wide receivers. Up next is Minnesota's running backs group.
Returning starters: RB Dalvin Cook and FB C.J. Ham
View the best photos of Vikings FB C.J. Ham from the 2021 season.
Also on the roster (listed alphabetically by last name): FB Jake Bargas, RB Ty Chandler, RB Bryant Koback, RB Alexander Mattison and RB Kene Nwangwu.
2021 recap: Cook started all 13 games he played, racking up 1,159 yards and six touchdowns on 249 carries. Cook also added 34 catches for 224 yards through the air. Mattison was the team's second-leading rusher with 134 carries for 491 yards and three touchdowns; he added 32 catches for 228 yards and one receiving touchdown. Ham was on the field for 376 (33 percent) of the Vikings offensive snaps.
3 Key Questions for Vikings Running Backs
1. What will Minnesota's run game look like under Head Coach Kevin O'Connell?
Vikings fans grew to expect a heavy dose of the run game the past three seasons, but it remains to be seen exactly what the 2022 offense will look like under the guidance of new Head Coach Kevin O'Connell.
O'Connell most recently served as the Rams offensive coordinator, and although Head Coach Sean McVay called the plays, it's worth looking at the trends of that system.
The Rams logged 1,058 offensive plays during the 2021 regular season. Of those, 420 – or 39.7 percent – were run plays, which ranked ninth lowest in the NFL. Their 638 (60.3 percent) passing plays were the league's 12th most.
Though it remains to be seen exactly what the offense will look like come Week 1, it seems fair to deduce the Vikings will implement a system that's at least a little more pass-heavy.
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Minnesota utilized wide zone running concepts in the past three seasons, enlisting mobile offensive linemen to get to the edge. The Vikings offensive line is built to continue that in some capacity, but look for O'Connell and Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips to deploy other types of plays to maximize Cook's threat.
Look for receivers to help block on run plays and running backs to be utilized as options on pass plays.
2. Will Dalvin Cook start all 17 regular-season games?
There's no denying the difference Cook makes when he's on the field.
View the best photos of Vikings RB Dalvin Cook from the 2021 season.
It's also hard to ignore, though, that he has yet to play a complete slate of games. Cook gives 110 percent on every snap he's able, but that has also resulted in the running back being sidelined at various times by different injuries.
After tearing his ACL as a rookie in just his fourth pro game, Cook started 10 games in 2018, 14 in 2019, 14 in 2020 and 13 last season. It's worth noting that he still surpassed the 1,000-rushing-yard mark in each of the past three campaigns, so it's fun to think about "what could have been" had he played every game.
It will be interesting to see how an answer to the previous question will impact not only Cook's involvement but his longevity.
Forcing opponents to plan for Cook 17 times during the regular season – and hopefully into the postseason – would certainly be advantageous for Minnesota. Even if O'Connell runs a more pass-heavy offense, if Cook is on the field … defenses have to account for him.
3. What role will Kene Nwangwu play on offense?
Nwangwu impressed as a rookie on special teams, leading the league with two kickoff return touchdowns.
The former Iowa State standout showed off his vision and explosive speed, averaging 32.2 yards per kickoff return.
Vikings new Special Teams Coordinator Matt Daniels said this spring that Nwangwu has lived up to any expectations entering Year 2.
"You see a guy who has a very, very explosive first step, the ability [break tackles], to get in and out of his cuts. That's what you're looking for from a kick returner, is the ability to stick that foot in the ground and get vertical immediately," Daniels said. "I'm really excited about the plan that we have for him and what we'll do this year with him."
Nwangwu's presence was felt mostly as a returner in 2021, but will he find more of a groove in the offense this season?
Cook has certainly expressed confidence in the young back, saying Nwangwu "doesn't have a ceiling."
"Kene is one of those different type of guys, you know, you gotta unlock the things that Kene's got because he's got it all. We see it in special teams," Cook said. "The thing I haven't seen is him run the ball more consistently and get the ball more. I think that's going to happen coming up, just getting more opportunities, getting him on the field because he's special with the ball in his hands, and I want to see him make more plays."