What took Vikings so long to turn to running back Ty Chandler?

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Ty Chandler talked about seizing the moment last Sunday after the Vikings’ 27-24 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Though the young running back would have preferred a win more than anything else, he had to settle for a performance that saw him rush for 132 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries in the first start of his career.

“He’s got juice,” quarterback Nick Mullens said. “It’s what we want from a running back.”

Chandler’s explosiveness has been on display ever since the Vikings selected him in the 2022 NFL Draft. His talent was undeniable from the first time he stepped foot on the field. He simply had to work on some of the fundamentals in his game.

After practicing patience with Chandler over the past couple of seasons — too much patience as far as large portions of the fan base was concerned — the Vikings finally took Chandler’s training wheels off last weekend with fellow running back Alexander Mattison working through an ankle injury.

The results were as undeniable as Chandler’s talent. It raises the question: What took the Vikings so long to start featuring him?

Asked different variations of that same question, head coach Kevin O’Connell and offensive coordinator Wes Phillips gave similar answers that centered on Chandler’s development as a player. He needed to learn the intricacies of playing running back at the highest level.

“You see more of the finished product and say, ‘Why wasn’t he in right from the start?’ ” Phillips said. “There’s been a lot of growth from when he first came in.”

Now it appears Chandler is ready to shoulder the load. He’s dynamic with the ball in his hands and brings an element to the offense that doesn’t exist without him.

That’s why it was interesting when O’Connell stopped short of declaring Chandler the starter for the Vikings’ home game against the Detroit Lions on Christmas Eve. As much as he emphasized that Chandler will be a big part of the game plan, O’Connell left the door open for Mattison to reclaim his role as the starter.

“There is no question Ty is absolutely a guy that is going to continue to see a featured role in our offense,” O’Connell said. “As far as what that looks like moving forward with who gets the first touch of the game and all those things, we’ll continue to work through that based upon what we are attempting to do scheme-wise.”

Maybe that was O’Connell delivering the politically correct answer so not to admit publicly that Mattison had lost his job to Chandler. Maybe when the Vikings take the field on offense for the first time against the Lions, they will do so with Chandler as the lead back. Maybe it won’t even matter because Mattison could very well miss the game after being listed as questionable.

“We’re kind of building with the mindset that Ty is going to be a guy that we are trying to get the ball to a lot,” O’Connell said. “Both in the run and in the pass.”

That would behoove the Vikings considering how Chandler performed in his first start.

“He did exactly what we expected him to do,” star receiver Justin Jefferson said. “He did a phenomenal job in his first game as a starter, and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing him during this last stretch.”

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