Photo - Hannah Foslien (Getty Images)
By: Aj Mansour | KFAN.com
Mankato, MN - Serving as the backup to someone who is arguably the best in the world at what they do has to be an interesting position to be in. Sure, you get to observe the best on a daily basis and you get to pick the brain of the guy that everybody looks up to, but with that your opportunities are surely going to be few and far between.
Such is the case for Minnesota Vikings backup running back Matt Asiata.
Asiata splashed onto the scene last season when, in a pinch (with Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart injured) the Vikings called the number of their number three running back. Up for the challenge, Asiata crossed the goal line three times in his first career start against the Eagles in week 15 and then tacked on a 115 yard performance in the team's final game against the Detroit Lions.
Back again for the 2014 season, Asiata has an opportunity to see even more regular action, and he doesn't want to miss out on it.
With the departure of former number two Toby Gerhart and the implementation of Norv Turner's new offensive scheme, Asiata is looking to impress and find a regular role with this year's Vikings' squad.
You may not recognize Matt when he trots onto the field this year. He cut his trademark long-braided hair, lost five pounds and cut his body-fat "a lot!" But physical changes won't be enough for Asiata to win the backup job. Versatility and speed are two things that he's looking to add to his arsenal to impress the new coaching staff to a point where his inclusion is on more of a regular basis than in the past.
"Anything I can to to help the team, I'm going to do it," Asiata told me Sunday morning in Mankato.
During the offseason, Asiata took a look at his past film and what he saw was a player that was simply too slow to get a good look. So he took to the training fields and worked on his conditioning.
"I worked on [speed] during the offseason," Matt said. "I'm a little slimmer, I chopped off the hair but extra conditioning was the real big part. Coming out here and continually running, never walking on the field...You have to get those hips loose and get the hamstrings going."
In addition to cutting weight and adding some speed, Asiata is looking to become a more versatile back. Looking to not only backup Adrian, but to compliment #28 was an important realization for Matt and whether it be serving as the third down back or filling in as the team's hybrid fullback, he's ready for the challenge.
""Whatever they give me, I'm going to take it," Asiata told me. "[At fullback] you've got to buckle your chin strap, you've got to hit linebackers or catch the ball out of the backfield and block."
"That's something I take pride in is my hands and catching the ball out of the backfield."
Early results are already starting to roll in and the new coaching staff has noticed Matt's desire to improve, admitting that his increased abilities might be a benefit for this Vikings team.
"I think that our backfield situation is really in good shape," offensive coordinator Norv Turner said Saturday. "One of the guys who have been as impressive to me as anyone offensively is Matt Asiata. He finished the season strong, he is in great shape, and he gives you that big pounder. He is an excellent athlete – he catches, he has a good change in direction, he’s a good pass protector."
For Asiata, the same as all of the Vikings' offensive players, the biggest nemesis this preseason may in fact be Norv Turner's playbook. Matt acknowledged that it is coming to everybody but when they first looked at it, "it was like speaking Spanish...and my Spanish isn't good!"
On the current depth chart, put together solely by observing the team sessions of practices, Asiata is slotted in as the number two back. With impressive, young talent behind him, he'll have to keep working.
But it's clear after watching the first few days of practice that Asiata seems to be doing all of the right things.
Aj Mansour covers Minnesota Sports for KFAN.com. Feel free to leave comments and questions regarding this post in the space provided below. For Vikings updates and breaking Vikings news, follow Aj on Twitter. @AjKFAN