Can Norv Turner blend backs with varied skills into 'complete group'?
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MANKATO, Minn. - Vikings fullback Jerome Felton knows a thing or two about learning a new offense. The seventh-year pro is in the midst of installing his sixth NFL offense, a Norv Turner special that has the fullback excited about the team's potential.
But it's easy to praise and project great things from the familiar confines of training camp. As Felton and the Vikings know well, the real test begins in Week 1.
Turner has said he thinks the Vikings backfield is "in really good shape," despite losing four-year backup Toby Gerhart to Jacksonville in free agency. Felton agrees with Turner's assessment. He said the varying skills each back possesses make them a good complement for each other.
"I think we have a very versatile group," Felton said Friday. "You look at Adrian [Peterson] being the pure runner he is; Matt [Asiata] can do everything; Jerick [McKinnon] is going to be a really shifty scatback and he's strong, too, so I think we can count on pass protection; and my role. So I really feel we have a complete group, one of the best in the league, and that'll be key for us to have success this year."
Felton was then asked about the shortcomings in each player's game. The Vikings can't, after all, combine all the running backs into one super back (well, another super back). They can't pull from the strengths while simultaneously ignoring each weakness. Felton said Turner's presence will help mitigate any individual shortcomings by emphasizing what each player does well.
"You're always going to have guys with different skillsets. The biggest thing is, Norv Turner has a lot of experience taking advantage of people's skill sets," Felton said. He used fullbacks like Mike Tolbert and Moran Norris, who spoke highly of Turner, to illustrate the different ways fullbacks can be used to highlight the strength of each player.
"I think [Turner] is very good at adjusting the scheme to what type of skills his players have. And I feel like we kind of run the board with our backfield," Felton said.
--Peterson has caught 40 passes in a season only twice. (For comparison's sake, 20 running backs caught more than 40 passes during the 2013 regular season.) And he's coming off yet another offseason surgery. And he's not well-known for his pass protection or blitz pickup.
--Asiata currently seems slated as Peterson's backup. He averaged 2.6 yards per carry in 44 attempts in 2013. But he said he lost about five pounds this offseason and cut his body fat in an attempt to get quicker.
--McKinnon was a triple-option quarterback his senior season at Georgia Southern and first learned pass protection techniques, he said, at the Senior Bowl. Felton said McKinnon will be a trusted pass protector because of his physical strength, but his size (5-foot-9) and lack of experience leave that in question.
Can Turner effectively blend those backs into a standout backfield? That will be an interesting question to answer during the 2014 Vikings season.
Additional listening: ESPN's Ben Goessling joins the Purple Podcast with Andrew Krammer and Derek Wetmore to talk about why Adrian Peterson was unhappy at the end of last season, and why he's in a better place now.