Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


Vikings 2013 look ahead: Tight ends

Posted by: Mark Craig under Vikings, NFC, NFL draft, Super Bowl, Leslie Frazier, Adrian Peterson, Leslie Frazier, Percy Harvin Updated: January 22, 2013 - 7:55 AM
The Vikings coaching staff and front office are in the process of fully evaluating their roster as they plan for the opening of free agency in March as well as April’s NFL Draft. As General Manager Rick Spielman, head coach Leslie Frazier and their respective staffs put their heads together, the Access Vikings team is doing the same. We are in the middle of delivering snapshot evaluations of every position group. Today, we look at the tight ends.
 
TIGHT ENDS
 
Get excited: You want something to get excited about? Check out Kyle Rudolph’s birthdate: 11-9-89. The 2011 second-round draft pick will have nearly three full seasons behind him before he turns 24 years old. He’s also 21 months younger than quarterback Christian Ponder, which means, barring injury and a regression by Ponder, these two should be together for a very long time. With 53 catches this season, Rudolph came within one reception of doubling his rookie total. He came within five yards of doubling his receiving yards total and tripled his touchdown total to nine. Rudolph also became a better blocker. He’ll never be a dominant blocker, but he definitely used that 6-5, 258-pound body to help move aside some of those eight and nine men who were stacked in the box to stop Adrian Peterson.
Rudolph already is a good player. But he’s nowhere near reaching his full potential. He’s a hard worker, so he’ll do his part to get there. Now, it’s up to the Vikings to add some quality receivers to help him out.
Everyone talks about what a bonafide No. 1 receiver would do for Peterson and Percy Harvin. But think what it also would do for Rudolph to have room to work the intermediate zones against smaller safeties or slower linebackers.
Rudolph had a career-high two touchdowns in the Week 3 upset of the now-NFC champion 49ers. But he also had three games in which he didn’t catch a single pass. That should never happen, and it won’t if the Vikings upgrade their receiving corps with a legitimate No. 1 down-the-field threat and more overall depth.        
 
Keep an eye on: The Vikings list Rhett Ellison as a fullback. For our purposes here, we’ll consider him a tight end that can play fullback. Or we’ll just go old school and call him a good football player.
Ellison told reporters a nice story on draft day last year. Ellison said he was sitting on a lake crying after the Vikings selected him in the fourth round. He said he never expected to be drafted.
Don’t believe him. OK, believe the parts about the lake and the crying. But the part about not thinking he’d be drafted is just a blue-collar kid trying to be humble.
Ellison caught only seven passes for 65 yards, so we’re not talking about the next Tony Gonzalez here. But we might be talking about the next Jim Kleinsasser, only a little smaller but faster and more athletic.
It didn’t take long to see that Ellison clearly was the second-best tight end on the team. Whether his growth was stunted by the team’s attempts to involve high-priced free agent John Carlson is hard to tell. But for a rookie fourth-rounder, what Ellison gave the Vikings on special teams and on offense was well worth a fourth-round pick.
 
Reason for worry: This could be off target because a man can’t read another man’s mind, but John Carlson doesn’t look like a guy who enjoys playing football anymore. The Vikings made him their priority in free agency a year ago, whisking him from under the Chiefs’ noses with a five-year, $25 million deal that brought the native Minnesotan back home. But he never got up to speed following a knee injury on the second day of training camp and was slowed again when he suffered a concussion during the season.
Carlson finished with just eight catches for 43 yards, a 5.4-yard average with a long of 14, and no touchdowns. He spent 14 games (six starts) either not being part of the game plan or being unable to get open when he was.
The Vikings argue that Carlson’s blocking was exemplary and went overlooked. That’s true. He gives good effort. But it’s also true that the Vikings had much grander plans when they signed Carlson.
The Vikings envisioned an offense similar to New England’s, which uses two pass-catching tight ends and a slippery slot receiver as their focal points (other than the three-time Super Bowl-winning future Hall of Fame QB, of course). Carlson’s inability to fulfill that role – for whatever reason – was a big blow to the passing attack this season.
Carlson is 28, so he’s still young enough to surprise us. But one certainly has reason to wonder if he can ever be the same player who began his NFL career by catching 106 passes and 13 touchdowns in his first two seasons in Seattle.
Carlson hasn’t looked the same since suffering a gruesome-looking concussion in a playoff game at Chicago during the 2010 season. He missed all of 2011 with a shoulder injury and obviously struggled in 2012.
The Vikings shouldn’t give up on Carlson. Barring a surprise acquisition at tight end, they should head to Mankato with the same intentions they had for Carlson last summer. But they also shouldn’t just hand him a 2013 roster spot based on how much he makes and what he did in 2008-09.
 

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Baltimore 0 Top 8th Inning
Detroit 15
NY Yankees 1 Top 9th Inning
Philadelphia 5
Northeastern 1 FINAL
Boston 2
Miami-Fla 1 FINAL
Miami 7
Pittsburgh 8 Bottom 8th Inning
Toronto 6
San Francisco 1 Top 3rd Inning
Oakland 4
Cleveland 0 Top 2nd Inning
Cincinnati 1
Boston College 3:05 PM
Boston
Arizona State 4:10 PM
Arizona
Boston 6:00 PM
Cleveland
LA Lakers 6:00 PM
Charlotte
Sacramento 6:00 PM
New York
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Atlanta
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Memphis
Washington 7:00 PM
Chicago
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Denver
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New Jersey
Calgary 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
Washington 6:00 PM
Columbus
Buffalo 6:30 PM
Tampa Bay
Toronto 6:30 PM
Florida
Ottawa 7:00 PM
Minnesota
NY Islanders 7:30 PM
Dallas
Anaheim 8:00 PM
Arizona
Los Angeles 8:30 PM
Edmonton
San Jose 9:00 PM
Vancouver
Ole Miss 6:00 PM
Alabama
Eastern Mich 6:00 PM
Ball State
Kent State 6:00 PM
Bowling Green
Ohio 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Georgetown 6:00 PM
Butler
Toledo 6:00 PM
Central Mich
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Dayton
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Detroit
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Georgia Tech
Loyola-Maryland 6:00 PM
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Iowa 6:00 PM
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Miami-Ohio
Army 6:00 PM
Navy
Maryland 6:00 PM
Rutgers
Kennesaw St 6:00 PM
USC Upstate
Jacksonville 6:00 PM
Fla Gulf Coast
Lipscomb 6:00 PM
Northern Ky
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North Florida
Wright State 7:00 PM
Ill-Chicago
Western Mich 7:00 PM
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West Virginia 8:00 PM
Kansas
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Missouri
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Northwestern
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Longwood 55 FINAL
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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami NoonX37-35
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