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Lunchbreak: ESPN on the Rise of Running Back Ty Chandler

EAGAN, Minn. — After a career game last week at Cincinnati, Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said Wednesday the team is "building with the mindset that" Ty Chandler will be a guy "we are trying to get the ball to a lot, both in the run and in the pass."

ESPN reporter Kevin Seifert examined how Chandler's role grew this season and what it could mean for the Vikings going forward.

There's no doubt Chandler has made significant strides since the Vikings made him a fifth-round pick in 2022. But his winding road toward Saturday's performance, and the reality that it might not be enough to keep him in the starting lineup, provides an insightful window into the way the Vikings coaching staff — and coach Kevin O'Connell in particular — has managed personnel in what has been a relatively convivial locker room during its 31-game tenure in Minnesota.

As a former NFL player himself, O'Connell was the victim of a quick and surprising judgment when the New England Patriots waived him one year after making him a third-round draft choice in 2008. Whether by coincidence or intent, O'Connell has taken a much different approach to decision-making.

Seifert then explained how the Vikings running backs room was constructed ahead of Chandler's breakout performance. As Chandler kept making splash plays, he earned more opportunities.

Alexander Mattison entered training camp as the Vikings unquestioned starter following the departure of Dalvin Cook, with Chandler as his backup. Over the first three regular season games, during which the Vikings ranked No. 31 in rushing, Mattison received 76 percent of backfield touches and 77 percent of snaps. But soon it was Chandler, not Mattison, who was supplanted when the Vikings acquired veteran Cam Akers from the Los Angeles Rams.

Chandler all but disappeared from the Vikings backfield for six games, prompting him to approach special teams coordinator Matt Daniels about getting reps as the personal protector on punts, Daniels said. In that role, Chandler began to demonstrate unmistakable big-play potential. He converted two fake punts with runs of 15 yards in Week 5 and 31 in Week 11. In between, he had a 103-yard kickoff return reversed by penalty during Week 8. In his rare appearances on offense, Chandler had two other big gains called back: a 27-yard reception on a double pass in Week 7 and a 29-yard touchdown run after Mattison entered concussion protocol in Week 10.

With Mattison still dealing with an ankle injury, Chandler could see another heavy workload this Sunday at home against the Lions.

Chandler, for one, does not appear fazed.

Soft-spoken by nature, he repeated Saturday he was simply trying "to seize the moment" and credited the Vikings offensive line for his success in three of the five questions he answered from reporters.

Click here to read ESPN's full story on Chandler.

Star Tribune compares O'Connell's second season with first

The Vikings won't match their division-winning record from last season, but Star Tribune columnist La Velle E. Neal III wrote that what O'Connell has guided his team through this season is more impressive than last year.

O'Connell has kept this season from falling apart, yet there are grumblings about his coaching decisions. He's not going to pass the white-glove inspection, but having a 7-7 record at this point and being in a playoff position is impressive.

Still, "Fire KOC" was trending on X (formerly Twitter) following Saturday's overtime loss to the Bengals.

You've got to be kidding.

Neal highlighted the slew of injuries Minnesota has overcome. Down Kirk Cousins following a Week 8 Achilles tear and seven-plus games without star receiver Justin Jefferson due to a hamstring injury, Neal acknowledges that the Vikings had plenty of reasons to fold. But O'Connell and his staff made no excuses and instead still has the team in playoff contention.

The fact that the Vikings are .500 despite the rash of turnovers and injuries, while managing a change of team identity — from offense first to hanging their hat on their defense — is a testament to O'Connell's coaching chops.

Last year's Vikings team had a genetic mutation of some kind that had them go 11-0 in one-score games, a record. O'Connell couldn't bring back the gene this season, and they're 6-7 in such games. Being historic is not sustainable — especially when your best players are on Injured Reserve.

With three games left, the Vikings not only have a shot at the postseason; they could win the NFC North.