Kleinsasser packs a punch, wherever he lines up

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 1, 2011 - 1:11 PM

The Vikings tight end, who will play his 100th consecutive game Sunday, functions as a tackle or fullback when the team needs him.

Perhaps it's fitting Jim Kleinsasser spent three days on the Vikings' injury report before anyone even thought to ask about his elbow.

It's not that he isn't an important player. Quite the contrary. At 34, his value has never been higher in 13 seasons with the Vikings.

But asking whether Kleinsasser is good to go on Sunday is like asking whether your couch will be there when you get home.

"Every single day, he comes to work," coach Leslie Frazier said, "and he works hard."

And why wouldn't he?

"It's work," he said. "We get paid pretty good for doing our job."

Kleinsasser is listed as probable for Sunday's game at Kansas City, but you can bank on it being his 100th consecutive regular-season game played. Only Steve Jordan's streak of 113 from 1985 to 1992 is longer among Vikings tight ends.

"It's just another game," Kleinsasser said. "We're 0-3. It's a game we got to have. We need to win a game. That's all I'm thinking about."

Kleinsasser has 191 career catches, which ranks second among Vikings tight ends behind Jordan (498). But never has a stat been more irrelevant in defining a player's career.

At 6-3 and 272 pounds, Kleinsasser is smaller than an offensive tackle and bigger than a fullback. Yet he's often counted on to handle the responsibilities of both positions while also playing a limited role in the passing game. He's been targeted three times with no completions (or drops), but he's also the guy who lined up at fullback, hit the hole and blasted a linebacker out of the way so Adrian Peterson could record that season-high 46-yard run back in Week 1 at San Diego.

"Any time you spring 28 [Peterson] into the open field," Kleinsasser said, "it's pretty gratifying."

When the Vikings decided they wanted to build a run-oriented, ball-control offense, Kleinsasser became a vital blocking component. When left tackle Bryant McKinnie was released on Day 2 of training camp, Kleinsasser's value as a pass protector dramatically rose.

"The guy isn't an offensive tackle, but he can play like one," running back Toby Gerhart said. "We can face a 3-4 team like Dallas and they got [outside linebacker] DeMarcus Ware, one of the best pass rushers. And Jim Kleinsasser can lock him down and hold him at the line of scrimmage."

When the Vikings decided not to keep a fullback, it was because Kleinsasser was better than the two they had. And if something were to happen to Kleinsasser, the quality of blocking from the fullback position would drop significantly with rookie tight ends Allen Reisner and Kyle Rudolph splitting time there.

"He's a great example to follow when he lines up in that fullback spot, so I watch him a lot," said fullback Ryan D'Imperio, who is on the Vikings practice squad. "He must be doing something right to be doing this as long as he has."

Frazier said the ability to catch the ball, block most defensive ends one-on-one and double as the team's fullback shows "so much versatility." Kleinsasser shrugs.

"I wouldn't say versatility," he said. "I'd say adaptability more than anything. ... I've always said, 'Do what I'm told.'"

Whatever it is, it impresses his teammates.

Asked where he'd place Kleinsasser among the most underrated Vikings, cornerback Antoine Winfield ranked Kleinsasser No. 3 in the entire league. He put Bills cornerback Drayton Florence No. 2 and, with some help from a reporter, he picked Ravens running back Ray Rice as No. 1.

"[Kleinsasser] is in his 13th year, same team, still playing at a high level every week," Winfield said. "He doesn't have that many receptions, but he's a great blocker and they use him at fullback, too. He's very underrated."

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