EAGAN, Minn. — As Verizon Vikings Training Camp continues and the 2020 season nears, plenty of players will play key roles for the Vikings.
But some players will be in the spotlight more than others, whether it is because of roster turnover or their own progression in recent years.
This is a 10-part series about X-factors on the roster, consisting of players who could be primed for more playing time, and a chance to help the Vikings more than in years past.
Rookies are excluded, as are veterans who have already cemented themselves as vital players on the Vikings.
Up next? Vikings running back Alexander Mattison. Here's why he could be an X-factor in 2020:
— Was team's second-leading rusher as a rookie
— Has strong grasp of offense in Year 2
— Coaches say he's primed for bigger role
Stat line: 100 carries for 462 yards (4.62 yards per carry) and one touchdown in 13 games; 10 catches for 82 yards
Mattison was a third-round pick out of Boise State who quickly cemented himself as the backup running back to Dalvin Cook in 2019.
View the top photos of Vikings RB Alexander Mattison from the 2019 season.
And with the Vikings running the ball 48.3 percent of the time on offense a year ago, that meant plenty of work for the former Boise State standout.
Mattison topped the 50-yard mark five different times in 2019, but only had double-digit carries in three of those games on his was to finishing as the team's second-leading rusher.
"When he went in there last year, he did a nice job. I was very impressed with him," said Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer. "I think he's going to be a very good back. Dalvin has helped him quite a bit and so has [Vikings running backs coach] Kennedy Polamalu."
Mattison was part of a collection of backs that all chipped in at times, but the Southern California native said it was actually his bad plays that he remembers more than his good ones.
In a recent videoconference with the Twin Cities media, Mattison was asked what he learned the most from his rookie season.
"I would probably say failure. Going out there and you fail a couple times, you learn from your mistakes, you hit the film room and you go out there and get back to it," Mattison said. "I was out there, thrown into the fire with the 1s and 2s immediately as I came in and I think that taught me early on and helped me with my progression and my growth so far.
"Just taking what I've learned from the guys in the group, too, — from Dalvin, C.J. [Ham], Ameer [Abdullah], [Mike] Boone — all those guys in the room have helped me grow a lot and it's something that's happening every single day," Mattison added. "We're growing together and we're going out there and we're getting better."
Mattison's ability to step in and contribute as a rookie helped the Vikings finish sixth overall with 133.3 rushing yards per game in 2019.
Best Splash Play So Far
Mattison provided a few splash plays in 2019, especially when the former high school track star hurdled defenders on highlight-reel moves.
But his most memorable hurdle came when he splashed into the end zone in Week 3 against the Raiders for his first-career touchdown.
With the ball at the Raiders' 10-yard line, Mattison took a handoff to the right before cutting back left, and started his ascent at the 4-yard line. Mattison leapt over safety Curtis Riley, tumbling into the end zone for the score.
View photos of Vikings players from Verizon Vikings Training Camp practice at TCO Performance Center.
"It felt great. Just to get in there and do things the right way," Mattison said of his Week 3 touchdown. "The guys up front, they blocked it perfectly, and so it was just one of those things where you go in there and try and use your training, use what you've done and just be special.
"It's instinctual," Mattison added. "I ran hurdles in high school, did long jump in high school, so it's something I kind of have in my back pocket that I just keep there until it's time to bring it out."
Much like a year ago, Mattison has taken reps with the first and second-team units in training camp, a sign he will be a vital part of Minnesota's offense in 2020.
And with Gary Kubiak now calling the offensive plays — the veteran coach has a strong penchant for the running game — there's a good chance Mattison either equals or exceeds his carries total from 2019.
Kubiak recently assessed where Mattison fits into the Vikings offense.
"First off, Alex is very bright," Kubiak said. "The great backs I've had in this league are very sharp and very tough, and he's both of those.
"He's benefited from being around Dalvin, watching Dalvin, who's the consummate pro, and now he comes in … you see a lot of confidence going from Year 1 to 2. 'Matt' knows he's a starting-caliber back in this league," Kubiak added. "He's going to have a great career, and his focus is very good right now."
Zimmer, too, had plenty of praise for the 22-year-old running back.
"Alexander has really done good. I think he looks quicker to me," Zimmer said. "I think he's ready to have a good year. He's been catching the ball well, obviously got a lot of reps early on."
As for Mattison, he recently said he plans to take those failures from a season ago and turn them into successes from here on out.
And as he teams with Cook for another season in Purple, the duo could become one of the top rushing tandems around the league.
"I'm still learning every day. I'm going out there and trying to take my game to the next level," Mattison said. "Whatever leap that is, I'll keep that in the back of my head and hope to put on a show for everybody and … show my improvement. The rest will work its way out."