In some ways this year, tight end John Carlson has the benefit of experiencing the familiar. He’s now been to two Vikings training camps; he’ll again play home games at a Metrodome to which he’s grown accustomed. ¶ But this go-round, Carlson expects many things to be different. And that brings an immediate smile to the native Minnesotan’s face.
Riddled by injuries in 2012, his first season with the Vikings, Carlson was barely an offensive factor, recording only eight receptions for 43 yards in 15 games — not a lot of output from someone with a five-year contract once worth $25 million. Though it was restructured in the offseason, that contract earned him the dubious honor of being named the second-most overpaid NFL player by Forbes Magazine (behind teammate Jerome Felton).
Now that he feels healthy again, the 6-5, 256-pound Carlson said there is a bit of pressure to prove his worth to his home-state team.
“As NFL football players, we have to prove ourselves every year. Last year, I didn’t do it,” Carlson said. “For whatever you want to blame it on, I wasn’t as good as I needed to be. I take responsibility for that.”
Living up to expectations is something Carlson was used to before his professional football days. In high school, Carlson helped Litchfield’s basketball team — one his father, John Carlson Sr., has coached for 27 years — to three Class 2A titles.
He played both football and basketball at Notre Dame, but soon, Carlson said, he stopped growing. It was then he realized that if he was to have a future in professional sports, it would be in football.
A standout for the Fighting Irish, Carlson was drafted in the second round in 2008 by Seattle, a team for which he started 38 games in three years before being sidelined for a season because of a shoulder injury.
In 2012, Carlson was signed as a free agent by the Vikings. He can still remember walking onto the Metrodome field for the first time; his first professional game as a Seahawk was a preseason matchup with the Vikings. Signing with the team he dreamed of playing for meant he’d have the opportunity to take more steps on familiar turf.
“Any kid that’s shooting hoops in the driveway, throwing the football around with a friend, or playing baseball with his buddies, they all dream of playing for their home-state team,” Carlson said. “To have the opportunity to come back here and wear the purple, I jumped at the chance.”
Married with two kids, Carlson said returning to Minnesota and being near relatives was good for his family. On the football field, the move didn’t fare as well. Carlson missed most of his first training camp with the Vikings after sustaining a knee injury early in camp. Then, in an Oct. 21 victory against the Arizona Cardinals, Carlson sustained a concussion.
Carlson didn’t have many words to describe the frustration repetitive injuries have brought him. This year, Carlson said he came into camp determined to be as durable as possible, so he could do everything in his power to stay healthy.
So far, he’s achieved that. Now that Carlson’s been able to prepare with the team, coach Leslie Frazier believes he’s finally starting to see what he expected Carlson would bring when he was first signed.
“It’s much better for our offensive coordinator and quarterback to be calling plays with him in practice so we can get him involved,” Frazier said after practice Monday. “Everybody is much more comfortable with him and we have a better feel of what he’s capable of doing.”
Presumably, Carlson could figure into some two-tight-end sets with Pro Bowler Kyle Rudolph. Carlson said he’d like to get as many receptions as he can this season. He also knows opportunities in the NFL are precious; therefore, Carlson said he’ll be thankful for whatever contribution he’s assigned to make, even if that should be a spot on special teams.
As long as he’s got a job, Carlson is prepared to do it with a smile.
“Whatever opportunities I have, my goal is to seize them,” he said, “to stay healthy and be on the field.”