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2023 Vikings Training Camp Preview: Running Backs

EAGAN, Minn. — Players are one week away from reporting for 2023 Vikings Training Camp presented by Omni Viking Lakes Hotel.

The first public practice is scheduled for Saturday, July 29, as part of Back Together Weekend, which is presented by The Salvation Army.

In preparation for the return of football, we started a position-by-position preview of the Vikings with quarterbacks. Receivers were next and followed by tight ends to close out last week. Up next? Running backs (and fullbacks).

Roster refresher

Returning starter: Fullback C.J. Ham (started four of 17 games played)

Also on the roster: (listed alphabetically by last name): Ty Chandler, Alexander Mattison, DeWayne McBride, Kene Nwangwu and fullback Zach Ojile

Key departure: Dalvin Cook

2022 recap: Cook started all 17 games for Minnesota, rushing 264 times for 1,173 yards and eight scores, highlighted by an 81-yard touchdown at Buffalo. Cook also led the group's output as a receiving option with 39 catches for 295 yards and two touchdowns — a 12-yarder at Washington and a 64-yard catch-and-run against Indianapolis that was part of the largest comeback in NFL history. Cook's availability for every game meant a reserve role for Mattison. He rushed 74 times for 283 yards and five touchdowns and added 15 receptions for 91 yards. Mattison also scored on a screen play that gained 15 yards and gave Minnesota an early lead against New Orleans. Nwangwu (nine rushes for 14 yards; two receptions for 21 yards) and Chandler (six for 20) were utilized on a limited basis. Ham rushed only four times for 7 yards but scored twice on the ground. He added 10 catches for 86 yards.

View the best photos of Vikings RB Kene Nwangwu from the 2022 season.

3 Key Questions for Vikings Running Backs

1. If in a similar role, can Mattison's production come close to Cook?

It's not every year that the Vikings say goodbye to a top-five rusher, but that's the situation heading into 2023. Mattison has started six games since joining the Vikings as a third-round pick in 2019. He's rushed for at least 90 yards in four of those contests. In three of them, Mattison also has added at least 40 receiving yards.

Coaches were complimentary of Mattison last year, saying his grasp of the offense and ability allowed them to keep the full playbook open when he spelled Cook, who ranked sixth in the NFL in rushing yards in 2022.

That confidence and past production bodes well, but the next time Mattison starts in consecutive weeks will be his first time to do so.

Mattison, whose NFL high for carries in a season is 134, carried the football 212 times in 2017 at Boise State and 302 times the following year before entering the NFL Draft with a year of eligibility remaining.

2. What will be the distribution of carries for other running backs?

Head Coach Kevin O'Connell is a major proponent of trying to have every player as close to 100 percent as possible each week, and he and the Health & Performance staff have the capability and willingness to pay attention to workloads and adjust in practices between game days.

The Vikings have been building their depth at the position through late-round picks in each of the past season.

Nwangwu was selected in the fourth round in 2021, Chandler (fifth round in 2022) was part of the first class selected with O'Connell and General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah in charge, and McBride was a seventh-round pick this spring.

Nwangwu's threat as a game-changing kickoff returner is legit, so it remains to be seen how much the Vikings want to utilize him on offense.

Chandler flashed a bit in the preseason with 113 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. McBride averaged 7.4 yards per carry and scored 19 touchdowns last fall at UAB.

Coaches are again likely to value keeping the playbook as open as possible, so a big part of competing for carries will be the young runners showing what they can do with an increased role, followed by capitalizing on carries in the preseason.

The Vikings hosted Season Ticket Members at the TCO Stadium for the premier to "Quarterback" on Netflix featuring Kirk Cousins.

3. What does the fullback position look like in its second year under O'Connell?

O'Connell and Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips spoke multiple times after they arrived in Minnesota about the opportunity to implement a fullback in their system.

That's grown the more they've been around Ham because of his dependability and versatility.

Beyond lining up in an I-formation and blocking for a running back, it wouldn't be a shock to see Ham move around to different spots in formations as coaches play the game within the game to create mismatches.