DALLAS -- After one preseason game, Chuck Foreman hasn’t changed his mind in the slightest.
The former Vikings star running back had dinner with Minnesota backs at the end of spring drills in June and called it the deepest group he knows of in team history. On Friday night, Aug. 9, starter Dalvin Cook sat out a 34-25 win at New Orleans, but four other backs combined to roll up 205 yards on the ground.
“No question, it’s the deepest since at least I’ve been around here,’’ Foreman, who played for the Vikings from 1973-79, said Saturday. “Those guys performed and the offensive line did well.’’
With Cook being held out because the Vikings didn’t want to use him on the Superdome turf, rookie Alexander Mattison started and carried nine times for 30 yards against a number of first-team defenders. Then reserves came in and ran wild.
Ameer Abdullah had four first-half carries for 63 yards, including a 42-yard jaunt. Mike Boone took over to start the second half and had four attempts for 70 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown. And D’Angelo Henderson finished up, carrying seven times for 42 yards.
“I was really impressed with our running backs,’’ said quarterback Kirk Cousins. “There was just one impressive run after another.’’
The game followed an offseason in which Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer made it clear he wants to run the ball more. If was the first game for the Vikings using their new zone blocking scheme, and Foreman believes their runners are well suited for it.
“Those guys could read the blocks and that’s what the running back likes to do,’’ Foreman said. “You could see the room they had, and it was nice to see.’’
Vikings backs averaged a whopping 8.5 yards per carry. Mattison gained just 2 yards on his first two carries but then averaged 4.0 on his last seven, including runs of 6 and 8 yards.
Zimmer said the third-round pick “ran hard.’’ Mattison was asked if he was nervous getting the start in his first preseason game.
“Not really,’’ he said. “You have the butterflies like every game. If you don’t have those, then something might be wrong with you. But I put those aside and did my job every play.’’
Mattison caught a 1-yard touchdown pass from Cousins on the first drive. He called that a “great feeling.’’
After Mattison’s work was done, he was quite content to watch Minnesota’s other backs go to work.
“The whole (group) has been exciting,’’ he said. “To be a part of that group is nothing but love and brotherhood in that room. To see the performance we were able to put out there, it’s showing our hard work’s paying off.’’
Boone’s 64-yard touchdown run down the left sideline with 7:09 left in the game concluded the scoring. It came after the Saints had cut the deficit to 27-25 with 8:44 left.
“Pretty fun,’’ Boone said. “The offensive line, they executed. They did what they had to do, and I just did what I was coached to do, hit the hole that was open.’’
Competition for playing time figures to be intense at running back. After Cook, the unofficial depth chart order to start the preseason was Mattison, Abdullah, Boone and Henderson.
“It’s a room full of great backs, from Cook on down, everybody,’’ Boone said. “I feel like any one of us can get in and I don’t feel a drop-off.’’
The only big negative among the backs Friday was Abdullah losing a fumble late in the first half at the New Orleans 21. That came three plays after he had broken loose on the 42-yard run to the Saints’ 15.
“Those guys have some talent,’’ Zimmer said of his backs. “They are still learning. They still got some more teaching we have to do with them, but I thought overall they did a nice job.’’
Next up is the home preseason opener next Sunday against Seattle. With Cook in line to play, Foreman might be even more impressed.