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With Peterson injured, Vikings turn to McKinnon, Asiata and newly signed Hillman

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn.--Without Adrian Peterson, the new Vikings starting running back is Jerick McKinnon. Despite carrying the ball just three times in the team's first two games, McKinnon is the team's top back, coach Mike Zimmer said Wednesday. M...

Minnesota Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon (21) runs for a short gain after a missed tackle by Tennessee Titans linebacker Sean Spence (55) during the firs thalf at Nissan Stadium earlier this month. Photo by Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Minnesota Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon (21) runs for a short gain after a missed tackle by Tennessee Titans linebacker Sean Spence (55) during the firs thalf at Nissan Stadium earlier this month. Photo by Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn.-Without Adrian Peterson, the new Vikings starting running back is Jerick McKinnon.

Despite carrying the ball just three times in the team's first two games, McKinnon is the team's top back, coach Mike Zimmer said Wednesday.

McKinnon, Matt Asiata and Ronnie Hillman, signed to a contract Wednesday, form the team's new stable of running backs.

While McKinnon declined comment, quarterback Sam Bradford expressed confidence in McKinnon and Asiata, even if they've only been teammates for less than three weeks.

"I think you can use those guys in a lot of different ways," Bradford said. "I think you can pound the ball between the tackles from under center. They can both run the ball in some of the side, gun runs. I think they both catch the ball very well; they protect very well. It's nice to have the options we have with those two guys, and I'd think that we'd try to use them in as many different ways as we can."

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When Peterson was suspended in 2014, McKinnon and Asiata assumed the ball-carrying duties, something not lost on teammates. McKinnon finished that season with a career-high 538 rushing yards. Asiata finished with a career-high 570 rushing yards.

"They held it down when Adrian was gone in 2014," wide receiver Charles Johnson said. "We haven't forgotten about those guys. We know they can come in here and hold it down for us."

Already, McKinnon and Asiata have drawn attention from the Carolina Panthers leading to their Sunday matchup.

"The two guys they have behind Adrian Peterson are two good players," said Luke Kuechly, the Panthers' top linebacker. "I think Asiata does a good job, he's a good, physical run after contact guy and he does a good job of holding onto the ball. He's not an easy guy to tackle. Then you look at the other side. McKinnon is a guy that if you give him the smallest crease, he's going to score a touchdown on you. He's got great speed, he's shifty, he's quick, and I think that's a good thing to have. With Adrian being banged up right now, it's a loss, but with those two guys, I think they still have an opportunity to be dangerous in the run game."

Even with Peterson out, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said his team won't plan for Sunday's game differently.

"Jerick McKinnon has proven to be a solid running back as anybody and Matt Asiata has done a nice job so it's not like they don't have players," Rivera said. "It's a good football team. ... Quite honestly, I believe on the offensive side, (coordinator) Norv Turner is going to do what coach Turner does. So it's about game planning for what he's going to do, not the individual."

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