Hartman: Vikings' Carlson looks ahead to a healthy 2013

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 7, 2013 - 6:28 AM

The tight end from Litchfield had his first year here derailed by injury and is looking to establish his role.

When the Vikings signed John Carlson as a free agent last season, big things were expected of the tight end from Litchfield, Minn.

Carlson, a second-round pick of the Seahawks in 2008 after being an All-America at Notre Dame, was expected to help make up for the retirement of the great Jim Kleinsasser.

But bad luck continued to follow Carlson, who had missed most of the 2011 season because of a shoulder injury.

“I kind of just ran down the list. I hurt my knee in training camp and had a few other issues as the season went on,” Carlson recalled at the Vikings’ organized team acitivites at Winter Park. “Missing training camp was tough, that put me behind the 8-ball a little bit, especially considering the year before I had missed the entire season. But I can’t change that, I’m focused on improving right now.

“… It was frustrating, but like I said, I’m looking forward. My focus right now is to own a role in this offense. I’m going to try and improve every day and develop a rapport with Christian [Ponder] and Matt [Cassel] and the other quarterbacks. I can’t change the past, so I’m looking forward.”

Carlson, who signed a five-year contract worth $25 million when he joined the Vikings and reportedly restructured the contract earlier this year, said he is 100 percent healthy now.

“I feel great. I feel healthy. It has been great to be out here for these OTAs and all these workouts,” he said. “That’s the goal, to try to stay healthy through this whole offseason and into training camp.”

The Vikings have a lot of talent at tight end, and if Carlson stays healthy the Vikings can have one of the best groups in the NFL.

Kyle [Rudolph] had a fantastic year last year, made the Pro Bowl and the Pro Bowl MVP, so he’s leading the way,” Carlson said.

“Then myself and Rhett Ellison, he came in here last year as a rookie and made some tremendous contributions both in the run game and the pass game. We have a couple other young guys, Chase Ford, and some people like that.

“As a tight end group it has been really exciting so far. I feel like we have been involved and offensively we’ve taken steps forward. We’re not to where we want to be yet, but we’re improving every day and that has to continue to be the goal.”

Love looking forward

Timberwolves star Kevin Love went on “Mike & Mike in the Morning” on ESPN Radio on Thursday and discussed a number of issues, including his health right now following a tough year with injuries.

“Back to full contact and full strength,” said Love, who appeared in only 18 games this season. “If I’m not 100 percent, I’m the closest thing to it. I feel great. That’s a blessing, too. It has been a while since that has been the case. … It’s never fun to deal with injuries, and hopefully I can put that behind us.”

Love also was asked if he someday would like to play for a team composed of superstars like the Heat. He responded by talking about his own teammates.

“You want to team up with big-time players in this league,” he said. “But we have Ricky Rubio, who is a great point guard. He came off of ACL surgery this past year, came out, you talk about a fan favorite, he played so, so hard every game, even when some games were out of hand, either in our favor or out of our favor. A guy like Nikola Pekovic, he averaged 16.3 points and 8.8 rebounds. … I’m great friends with Pek and great friends with Ricky. I think we’re very excited for what’s to come.”

At one point, Flip Saunders called into the show, and Love got to ask the new Wolves boss if Love would be traded. Saunders told Love he wasn’t going to trade him.

Incidentally, this weekend Saunders is heading for Italy, where he will scout a group of European players who could be drafted later this month.

Gophers in Oregon

The Gophers men’s track and field team saw two of its best hammer throwers compete in their final collegiate event this weekend when Micah Hegerle and Quentin Mege threw at the NCAA outdoor track and field championships in Eugene, Ore. Hegerle finished sixth to earn All-America status after taking seventh last year, while Mege finished 13th.

Those aren’t the only Gophers competing.

Harun [Abda] is in the top three in the country [at the 800 meters] and so is Quentin [at the hammer throw],” said Gophers coach Steve Plasencia.

“We might not have anybody else who can compete for an individual title, but we have some guys who can get All-American status and finish in the top eight. Travis Burkstrand in the 800 has a shot at doing that. Our 4x[400] relay team has a shot at doing that.”

Abda and Burkstrand both advanced to the 800 final Friday.

Plasencia added that Wally Ellenson, who combines basketball with the high jump, has had a chance to really focus on jumping the last month or so. He was third in the Big Ten at 6 feet, 11½ inches.

Jottings

• One suggestion University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler won’t listen to is the building of a new basketball arena and tearing down Williams Arena. Currently a big remodeling job is being done on Northrop Hall, and Kaler rates Williams Arena as a similar sacred fixture on campus and will agree to remodeling the arena but not to a new arena.

• There was a lot of talk about how tough the just-released 2015 Gophers football schedule is. But if you look at the 2014 schedule, their last three games are Ohio State at home and then at Nebraska and at Wisconsin. That has to rank as the toughest last three games a Gophers football team has ever played.

• The Gophers men’s basketball team will get a real test when it plays in the Maui Invitational Nov. 25-27. The other seven teams in the Hawaiian tournament include host Chaminade, Arkansas, Baylor, California, Dayton, Syracuse and Gonzaga, the 2009 tournament champion. … While all contracts have not been signed and there could be some changes, the Gophers home nonconference schedule this season could include Florida State, Montana, New Orleans and South Dakota State, among others.

Jon Ekstrom, a Vikings public relations assistant, has a nice claim to fame against a Minnesota pro athlete. While playing in the 2002 Kansas state baseball tournament for a Topeka team, Ekstrom hit a home run off Mike Pelfrey, who was pitching for a Wichita high school at the time and now pitches for the Twins.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. •

shartman@startribune.com

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