Matt Asiata is one of the least likely Vikings to be accused of being flashy on or off the field, but Master Tesfatsion of the Star Tribune took note of a shifty catch-and-run Asiata had against Oakland on the go-ahead touchdown drive during the final two minutes of the first half:
*Quarterback Shaun Hill dumped a pass to Asiata, who sidestepped to his right, avoided cornerback SaQwan Edwards, cut to his left, then juked defensive end Gary Wilkins for a 17-yard gain. It was the longest play on the drive that ended with a touchdown. *
Asiata worked in an industrial warehouse in 2011 after he was released by the Vikings. He returned in 2012 and 2013 as a reserve and on special teams before leading the Vikings with 570 rushing yards and nine rushing TDs in 2014 that tied for third-most in the NFL.
When Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner was asked this week about Asiata, he said, "Our players and coaches appreciate him a lot more than people who don't understand. He does everything you ask him to do."
Tesfatsion noted Asiata and running backs coach Kirby Wilson are working to help him find more explosive plays with a better understanding of defensive fronts.
But Asiata and running backs coach Kirby Wilson agreed he needed to get better at understanding defensive fronts.
"Just reading the defenses a lot more, using your eyes and not running into your own blockers," Asiata told Tesfatsion. "Just finding the hole and taking it. Defenses are always trying to stuff the run. They have schemes with different fronts, linebackers shifting and all that. Knowing how they're blitzing, film is a big part of just learning this stuff on the field."
Injuries have sidelined two young defensive linemen, 2014 draft picks Scott Crichton and Shamar Stephen, for multiple games this preseason. Crichton missed the Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay games. Stephen recorded a sack and was quite active against Pittsburgh, but missed the Tampa Bay and Oakland games and is the only player Head Coach Mike Zimmer has declared out for the Dallas game Saturday.
Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press took a look at the impact of the injuries.
*Crichton's injury cost him valuable time as he battles Justin Trattou and Danielle Hunter for the role as Minnesota's third defensive end. However, he was solid playing 44 snaps in the 20-12 win over Oakland. *
"I felt good," Crichton said. "I just wanted to get back with my teammates. That was the best part. A little tired, though. ... It's hard missing any time. Missing two weeks straight, it hurt, but you've just got to come back strong."
Crichton has done some work at defensive end, the position for which he was drafted, and moved inside from time to time this offseason. As for Stephen, Tomasson wrote:
*Stephen's injury was more serious than Crichton's, but he said he's making strides two weeks after he last practiced. *
"I'm just waiting for the green light to be able to come back," Stephen told Tomasson. "It was a pretty good surgery, and everything seems pretty good. Everything in my knee is pretty good, so I'm just waiting to come back and play."
Mental reps translate to making play
Anthony Barr's promising rookie season ended after starting the first 12 games because of a knee injury. He missed the first two preseason games this year but returned to action against Oakland.
Coaches have talked about Barr's understanding going into his second season as an asset during mental reps, and that awareness showed up against the Raiders.
Tim Yotter of Viking Update asked Barr about a pass deflection he made against Oakland. Yotter noted:
*Barr manned his usual strongside linebacker spot and played 14 snaps. He finished with one tackle and knocked down a pass at the line of scrimmage that showed both athleticism and awareness of the situation. *
"They had an overloaded formation. They brought the tackle to the other side and put the tight end on the short side," Barr told Yotter. "We were checked for that so I came off the short side. I knew the ball was coming out quick because the back stepped up. It was one step and he looked right at the receiver and I caught his vision line and was there to make the play."