By every measure, Jerick McKinnon looked like the Minnesota Vikings running back poised to take over most of the duties in the wake of Dalvin Cook's season-ending injury. The Vikings, however, sound as if their ready to take a hot-hand approach with McKinnon and Latavius Murray.
In Monday's win over the Vikings, Murray got the start and the early carries, but was ineffective, earning 12 totes for 31 yards. Then near the end of the half McKinnon earned more snaps, and caught a few passes. The Vikings stuck with the dual threat, who popped off a big touchdown run and wound up carrying the offensive load, with 146 scrimmage yards. McKinnon ended up doubling Murray in snaps by the end of the night.
"I think when you go into the game our intention was to use both of them and then [McKinnon] had the hot hand, and we just kind of stuck with him," offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said Thursday, via the team's official website.
McKinnon was clearly the better runner on Monday. The 25-year-old owns burst on the second level and speed in the open field. His pass-catching ability aligns better with how the Vikings want to operate under Shurmur. The question is whether McKinnon can physically handle a heavy workload (Monday marked the 10th game in his four-year career he's been given 16 or more carries).
Murray and McKinnon both expect Shurmur to stick with the hot hand.
"I think the hot hand thing [will continue], for sure," Murray said. "Coach tries to keep whoever is running really well in there in the game. I wouldn't expect that to change."
McKinnon's brand of play means he's likely to see most of those hot-hand situations, but the 25-year-old believes both backs have something to prove.
"Definitely. I don't think I'm a big guy, but I feel like I have a lot to prove," McKinnon said. "From talking to Latavius, him too, I think that's the thing that me and him really just do so well.
"We feed off each other because we have the same mindset, like working with him a lot, and it's been good so far."