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 personnel review: Tight ends

Posted by: under Vikings, NFC, Visanthe Shiancoe Updated: January 10, 2012 - 2:11 PM

Meetings are taking place at Winter Park this week with the Vikings planning a detailed player-by-player evaluation of their current roster. As they perform their in-house review, we’re following suit and delivering our own snapshot evaluation of each position group.

TIGHT ENDS

Get excited: Yeah, the Vikings had many, many other needs when they selected Notre Dame's Kyle Rudolph in the second round with the 43rd overall pick a year ago. But at least they won't need a pass-catching tight end when Visanthe Shiancoe leaves via free agency this offseason. After Rudolph's promising rookie season, there's reason to believe the 22-year-old will become an integral member of the team's offense for years to come. He might even become one of the better receiving tight ends in a league that's seen an explosion of them in recent years. Rudolph has size (6-6, 258), above-average speed for the position, outstanding hands and a massive catch radius. His 2011 numbers weren't exactly staggering (26 catches for 249 yards, a 9.6-yard average and three touchdowns), but he'll grow into the position as he takes over as the starter for Shiancoe. It'll also help him if the team actually acquired a legitimate No. 1 receiver.
 
Keep an eye on: Allen Reisner turned heads from Day 1 of last year's training camp. Media members called him "The Flasher" because he was one of those players who was always making flashy plays. An undrafted player out of Iowa, he had OK size (6-3, 248), moved well and caught everything that got near him. He made the team and then bounced back and forth between the active roster and the practice squad. He ended up playing six games and caught a 5-yard pass for a first down at Atlanta. He finished the year on the practice squad, but he'll be given a chance to be the team's No. 2 tight end when the team heads back to Mankato in August. At this point, Reisner's competition will be Mickey Shuler. He was the team's seventh-round pick in 2010. He was released before the season and ended up playing in six games with two starts for Miami in 2010. He rejoined the team late this season and probably would have played in the season finale if he hadn't sprained an ankle in practice earlier that week. 
 
Reason for worry: So who's going to actually block at tight end now that Jim Kleinsasser has retired his 6-3, 272-pound battering ram of a body after 13 seasons? Good question. Although true blocking tight ends are a dying breed (heck, Jimmy might have been the last one), the returning tight ends are going to have to improve as blockers. They don't have to level guys like Kleinsasser could. But they at least have to be able to throw the effective chip block on a consistent basis. Especially if the team can't upgrade the offensive line. With Kleinsasser gone and Shiancoe not expected back for a season in which he'll be 32, the Vikings have only Rudolph, Reisner and Shuler on the roster at this point. Neither Reisner nor Shuler is what you'd call a blocking tight end along the line of a Kleinsasser. Then again, who in the league is anymore? Kleinsasser could make this team next season. But he isn't about to pull a Favre and come back.
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