Tate moving forward with Vikings, who say McKinnon is still main RB

BY foxsports • November 20, 2014

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Ben Tate's whirlwind move from Cleveland to the Minnesota Vikings saw him outfitted into a No. 33 purple practice jersey and being force-fed an offensive scheme he's never played in before.

Tate took a plane to Minnesota after learning he would be claimed by the Vikings on Wednesday. Eating and sleeping became secondary luxuries as he hurried Northwest.

"It was tough," Tate said "After being claimed . . . I got a girl and a little boy, so it was definitely tough to try to get everything situated with that. It's just been traveling and not much sleeping and not much eating right now. Starving."

Tate could finally focus on a meal after his first full practice with Minnesota on Thursday afternoon. His progress with two days to practice will decide whether he is active for the Vikings' home game Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.

Minnesota's claim of Tate off waivers from the Browns was as necessity-based as trying to see if Tate could rediscover the talent that made him one of the league's top backups for three seasons in Houston.

The Vikings learned Tuesday they would be without running back Adrian Peterson, who hasn't played since Week 1 and was suspended for the final six games by commissioner Roger Goodell. Matt Asiata was held out of practice again Thursday and has yet to pass concussion testing and starting running back Jerick McKinnon was limited with a lower back injury Thursday.

Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer confirmed Tate was needed to account for injuries, as well as "the finality of Adrian's thing."

The only healthy running back on the active roster for Wednesday's practice was Joe Banyard. The Vikings signed Dominique Williams, who was with the team in training camp, to the practice squad earlier in the week.

"The timing of him being released, an opportunity for us to add a back, certainly it was good timing and we're getting started with Ben and trying to teach him our system and hopefully get him where he can be ready to go and contribute," Minnesota offensive coordinator Norv Turner said Thursday.

Tate was needed, but Turner and Zimmer made one thing clear Thursday.

"I think we're excited about Jerick and what he's done, and I see him as our running back," Turner said.

Zimmer added: "Nothing's changed that way."

The rookie McKinnon wasn't expected to be the team's main ball carrier when he was selected in the third round of this year's draft out of Georgia Southern. McKinnon was an option quarterback at Georgia Southern. The Vikings took a chance on him because of spectacular athleticism.

Just 5-foot-9, McKinnon is powerfully-built and his measurable stood out at the combine ranking among the best at his position in several categories. Without Peterson, McKinnon has responded with a team-leading 484 rushing yards, which is second among all rookies. He's averaging 4.9 yards per carry.

"He's a 210-pound guy who is put together pretty good," Turner said. "I'd like to see us get more carries, I'd like to see him get more carries. I know how that all goes, but games come up different and when we've been able to get in those situations and get him the ball, he's done well. I think he's going to be a very good back in this league."

Minnesota couldn't pass on the chance to add Tate to the mix because of the injuries and Peterson's status.

Tate, 26, had been a priority signing by the Cleveland Browns in the offseason. He thought he had found an NFL home, at least for the length of the two-year, $6.2 million contract he signed in the offseason.

His time in Cleveland turned sour quickly and he found himself behind rookies Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West. In his first media scrum in Minnesota, he disputed his release was because of displeasure with the Browns.

"Ah, no," Tate said. "That's false. I never said that."

Tate was surprised when he was cut just eight games into his first season with Cleveland. Tate started the season opener and had six carries for 41 yards but suffered a knee injury which caused him to miss the next two games. After the bye, he started five more games, but his role really lessened in last week's game with two carries for minus-9 yards.

He finished with 106 carries for 333 yards (3.1 yards per carry) with the Browns.

Tate's focus on his first day in Minnesota -- after getting a meal -- was moving forward.

"Right now I'm just focused on here and now that's trying to learn this playbook, trying to do everything I can to the best of my ability, a hundred percent, trying to fit it, trying to learn the guys and just trying to become a member of this team," Tate said.

The Vikings hope Tate can be ready for Sunday. Zimmer knows what Tate can do. As a rookie in Houston, Tate had a 44-yard run against Zimmer's Cincinnati Bengals defense.

"I didn't see him make any mental mistakes," Zimmer said of Tate's first practice with Minnesota. "He's got good acceleration. He's a little bit more of a thumper, pound it up in there."

The Vikings owe the balance of Tate's $1 million salary ($352,941) this season. Tate's contract -- and place with Minnesota -- is not guaranteed beyond the season. Peterson is appealing his suspension, but he's currently not eligible for reinstatement until April 2015.

Tate would hold a $2 million base salary next season. Peterson holds a $15.4 million salary-cap number next season with three more years remaining on the contract he signed in 2012.

"I'm definitely looking forward to this opportunity," Tate said. "{We'll) just see where things go from here."

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