NFC North: Bradley Randle

MINNEAPOLIS -- It's probably somewhat appropriate that Toby Gerhart's departure from the Minnesota Vikings came in relative obscurity, in the form of a three-year, $10.5 million deal the running back signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars last Tuesday while the Vikings were busy landing New York Giants defensive tackle Linval Joseph. Gerhart toiled behind Adrian Peterson for four seasons in Minnesota, and it became obvious last season that he was itching for a bigger role somewhere else.

His exit, though, is not insignificant. Gerhart saw time as the Vikings' third-down back the last several seasons, as the team was more comfortable using him as a pass-blocker than Peterson, and he stood out in two games toward the end of last season, as Peterson was either injured or hurting to the point the Vikings decided it would be wise to use both backs. Gerhart gained 91 yards on eight carries in the Vikings' Nov. 24 tie with the Green Bay Packers, and posted 89 yards on 15 carries in a Dec. 8 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, when he strained his hamstring on a 41-yard fourth-quarter touchdown that turned out to be his last carry in a Vikings uniform.

[+] EnlargeToby Gerhart
AP Photo/Damian StrohmeyerToby Gerhart is an insurance policy the Minnesota Vikings no longer have at their disposal.
While Gerhart likely would have never gotten the role he'd hoped for in Minnesota, he might have carved out a bigger role in the Vikings' offense next season. Peterson turns 29 on Friday and the Vikings could entertain the idea of dropping his workload slightly, with hopes of keeping him fresh and healthy. Matt Asiata, who saw 44 carries in the Vikings' final two home games with Peterson and Gerhart out, seems like the top candidate to slide into the No. 2 running back role at the moment. The exclusive rights free agent signed a one-year, $570,000 deal with the Vikings at the beginning of the month, and his agent, Ken Vierra, was optimistic about Asiata's prospects for 2014. The 5-foot-11, 229-pound back is built similarly to Gerhart and could be useful for some of the dirty work Gerhart was doing in Minnesota.

General manager Rick Spielman said last Friday the Vikings would look at running backs on the free-agent market and in the draft, too, and it might make sense for them to add another running back to the roster at some point. They still have practice-squad member Joe Banyard, and they re-signed training camp favorite Bradley Randle to the practice squad at the end of last season. Both could be effective in the passing game, where new offensive coordinator Norv Turner wants to use his running backs more, and Randle, who ran a 4.38 40-yard dash at Nevada's pro day last year, could be especially interesting as a change of pace. If the Vikings don't address the position from the outside, they might have a couple viable options already in their building.

They'll need to replenish their depth at running back on their active roster, though. Gerhart gave them a nice insurance policy for Peterson, and with the franchise player entering his eighth season in the league, a backup plan might be more vital than ever.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings hadn't made a decision on Adrian Peterson or Toby Gerhart's status as of Saturday afternoon, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, and it's possible the team will work out one or both injured running backs before Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Eagles. But of the several roster moves the Vikings made on Saturday afternoon, one could be an indicator they're expecting they could be thin at running back.

They activated running back Joe Banyard from the practice squad, giving them two healthy running backs before Sunday's game. The Vikings typically have three running backs (Peterson, Gerhart and Matt Asiata) and a fullback (Jerome Felton) active on game days, and in a worst-case scenario, they'd at least have Asiata and Banyard on Sunday.

Peterson and Gerhart both did some light work on Friday, and coach Leslie Frazier was particularly encouraged by how Peterson -- who sprained his right foot last Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens -- looked in practice on Friday. He said Peterson's gait looked good, adding the reigning NFL MVP was able to run and cut in some of the things the Vikings asked him to do. Peterson also said he felt he could manage his current level of pain in a game, but it remains to be seen whether the Vikings will risk further injury to Peterson as they're 3-9-1 and eliminated from the playoffs.

Gerhart, who replaced Peterson and strained his right hamstring on a 41-yard touchdown run last Sunday, said he felt good on Friday, though Frazier said the Vikings hadn't seen if Gerhart could accelerate quickly yet.

If the Vikings were left with Asiata and Banyard, they'd have the same running back tandem they did in their final preseason game. Asiata ran for 32 yards and a touchdown that night, while Banyard surpassed 100 rushing and receiving yards. The Vikings also signed diminutive running back Bradley Randle -- who had been with them in training camp -- to their practice squad this week.

As expected, the Vikings activated safety Harrison Smith from injured reserve on Saturday, and put cornerback Josh Robinson on IR to make room for Smith. Robinson, who has a fractured sternum, will see his season end after struggling early in the year as Antoine Winfield's replacement at slot cornerback.

The Vikings also signed cornerback Robert Steeples from their practice squad for some extra secondary depth with Xavier Rhodes doubtful and Chris Cook questionable for Sunday's game, and waived tackle Mike Remmers.

Vikings camp: Day 2

July, 27, 2013
7/27/13
7:00
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MANKATO, Minn. -- Our second day of training camp with the Minnesota Vikings is complete. The team will take Sunday off and then likely make the move to full pads Monday.

Many of you continue to ask about the progress of for the Vikings' passing game. I'll start off Saturday's observations with this rough transcript of a sequence witnessed during team drills at Minnesota State, Mankato:

Christian Ponder throws an interception, middle linebacker Erin Henderson snaring a pass intended for tight end Kyle Rudolph.

A fan in the stands yells, "Bring in [backup] Matt Cassel!"

Cassel misses a receiver badly.

Same fan: "Ponder!"

Ponder overthrows receiver Greg Jennings by several yards.

Same fan: "Cassel! Ponder! Someone else!"

Yes, that's the kind of practice it was. Ponder continued to mix competency with some poor throws that you hate to see any starter make in a non-contact setting. We've discussed the need for Ponder to even out his performances, and for whatever it's worth, he hasn't done that in the first two outings of training camp.

A few other thoughts before we point the NFC North blogmobile north:
  • For those setting their fantasy teams, the Vikings' three-receiver set has pretty consistently been Jennings and Jerome Simpson on the outside with Jarius Wright in the slot. The thought is that Simpson will eventually be challenged by rookie Cordarrelle Patterson, but it's too early in camp to assess how long that process will take.
  • Two attributes that show up in non-contact drills are speed and quickness, and it hasn't taken long to see that undrafted free agent Bradley Randle has both of them. Randle is a 5-foot-7 scatback from UNLV who might have some potential as a returner. All you have to do is watch him in a few pass drills to know that he can run.
  • Another speed-based player who stood out over the first two days is defensive lineman Everson Griffen. I'll have more on him Sunday, but let's just say the Vikings are expecting the world from him this season.
  • One thing is clear about Joe Webb's attempted transition to receiver: The guy can catch. The Vikings are giving him plenty of repetitions, and I haven't seen him miss a pass yet. There are plenty of other skills required to play receiver, but the ability to catch is obviously the most important.

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