EAGAN, Minn. — Vikings rookie Alexander Mattison doesn’t like to talk about the backfield battle behind starter Dalvin Cook. He has remained silent about it throughout training camp, and even now with the preseason in full swing, Mattison skillfully jukes the the topic like he’s breaking a tackle in the open field.
“Just letting it play itself out,” he said. “I’m working every day to get better and prove that I can be a playmaker in this offense. That’s all I can do.”
If he’s being honest with himself, he has to know he’s in the driver’s seat, partly because the Vikings invested a third-round draft pick on him this spring, and partly because he played alongside the first team in the preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints.
“It felt good to get out there and put some of the things we’ve been practicing to the test,” Mattison said. “There were guys coming to actually bring me down instead of my teammates just coming to touch me up, so it was nice to get some reps at full speed and be able to get tackled.”
It was also nice to get into the end zone, something Mattison did on the first drive of the game, catching a 1-yard touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins.
His overall performance appeared to catch the attention of coach Mike Zimmer, who sang his praises in the aftermath, while potentially tipping his hand about the position battle that also includes Ameer Abdullah and Mike Boone.
“I think Mattison has got a really bright future,” Zimmer said. “I think the other two guys can help in change-of-pace situations.”
In that same breath, Zimmer emphasized that Mattison needs to work on his ability in pass protection if he wants to be a key contributor in the offense. That’s always the toughest part about the transitioning to the next level, according to Zimmer, as it takes some time to get used to the speed of the game.
“That really takes playing in a game to get used to,” Mattison said. “It’s hard to simulate that kind of stuff in practice because nobody is really trying to run through me in practice. Just getting to see some of the different rotations and different tendencies and stuff like that was helpful.”
Those collisions at full speed are something that Mattison has been “longing for” since training camp started.
“You kind of get hungry for it,” Mattison said. “It was nice to get back in there.”
While the backfield battle might be his to lose at this point, Mattison knows both Abdullah and Boone are going to push him until the very end. They both outperformed him in the preseason opener, with Mattison rushing for 30 yards, Abdullah for 63 yards and Boone for 70 yards and a long touchdown.
“Our whole group is competitive,” Mattison said. “If one guy does something, it’s like, ‘Alright. Now it’s my turn.’ We get excited about what each other does, and it motivates us to continue to perform at a high level.”