- Matt Asiata had a 100-yard rushing game and a 3-TD game while filling in for Peterson last season.
- Jerick McKinnon was a training camp and preseason standout and has the speed and quickness to be a dangerous weapon in the open field.
- Cordarrelle Patterson, who had 102 rushing yards in Week 1, could be a factor in the running game again this week.
Who will step up for the Vikings at running back? It's a question the Vikings haven't had to ask too frequently since 2007, but it's a question this week as the Vikings prepare to face the New Orleans Saints without Adrian Peterson in the fold.
The Vikings depth chart suggests Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon are the most likely candidates to see increased opportunities. Joe Banyard, who has been with the team for two seasons, was promoted from the practice squad last week and will also likely be in the mix again this week. While those three names don't strike fear in the minds of opponents the way Peterson's name does, Vikings QB Matt Cassel expressed confidence in the Vikings depth at the position and even drew upon his own personal experience in New England in explaining that sometimes an opportunity is all a reserve needs to prove he's worthy of being relied upon.
"We have got a lot of confidence in Matt Asiata and Jerick (McKinnon) and those guys and they've got to step up," Cassel said on Thursday. "I revert back to my own example of when Tom (Brady) went down in New England (in 2008). It was a great opportunity for me and we were able to still perform, go out there and we ended up the year 11-5, which nobody thought we could do. At the same time, it's going to give opportunities and we've got to be able to step up."
The good news for the Vikings is that Asiata has been in this spot previously. Last year while stepping in for Peterson, Asiata rushed for three touchdowns against the Philadelphia Eagles and rushed for 115 yards on just 14 carries against the Detroit Lions. As for McKinnon, he's a rookie but was a standout performer for the Vikings during training camp. His speed and quickness make him a dangerous threat in open space but he also showed ability as an inside runner during training camp and the preseason.
"We're just going to play both and the guy that gets the hot the hand we're going to use him," Vikings Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner said. "But they both have different strengths. We want to continue to get production and help our quarterback."
While Cassel and Turner believe the Vikings depth at running back is good enough to keep the offense on track, neither can dispute the offense must find a way to compensate for the loss of Peterson, who is capable of scoring from long distance at a moment's notice. Asiata was productive in Peterson's stead last season, but even in his 115-yard performance Asiata had just three runs of over 10 yards.
"I think when you have a back who is capable of making big plays and has a history of making plays, ten, fifteen-yard runs, those plays can supplant some plays you're not getting in another area," Turner explained. "I think when you're coaching a player like that you kind of count on that that you're going to get those kind of plays. I think Matt and Jerick both had big runs but I don't think you can say, 'Hey in this game we are going to get three or four runs over fifteen yards,' like you would with Adrian. You just have to adjust your plan."
One way the Vikings could add some pop to the running game is to incorporate Cordarrelle Patterson. Turner did so in Week 1 against the Rams, with Patterson leading the team in rushing with 102 yards and a touchdown on three carries. The New England Patriots found a way to prevent the Vikings from handing it to Patterson, but don't be surprised to see the Vikings work this tactic back into their mix of offensive play calls.