Pat Shurmur’s hot streak as Vikings offensive coordinator now includes finding a way to rest one of the best tight ends in franchise history by utilizing an undrafted rookie tackle whose NFL experience was limited to three snaps on special teams.
“We were a little light at tight end,” Shurmur said after Sunday’s bye-clinching 23-10 win over the Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium. “So that’s why we used what we call our ‘muscle’ [formation]. It worked well for us.”
With tight end Kyle Rudolph still on a low snap count because of an ankle injury, Aviante Collins, a long-forgotten 6-4, 292-pounder from TCU, essentially got to play tight end for a day.
Well, sort of.
“I do have to report in as an eligible receiver every time I’m the tight end, just in case they go to me,” said Collins, smiling and knowing darn well his number 76 wasn’t getting called to run a route. “I did go in motion a little that one time. A little shuffle, shuffle before I went to block.”
Collins wasn’t the only unheralded contributor up front on Sunday. With left guard Nick Easton out for the season with a broken ankle and center Pat Elflein sidelined with a shoulder injury for the second time in four weeks, the Vikings used their seventh different offensive line combination of the season. The unit that began the season played only six games together all season.
“Sixteen games is a long year,” left tackle Riley Reiff said. “It adds up over time. Hats off to us. We have great backups.”
Right guard Joe Berger, a former starting center, moved to center. Jeremiah Sirles started at left guard, right tackle Mike Remmers moved to right guard, and Rashod Hill made his sixth start at right tackle.
Both tackles got a steady dose of “muscle” from Collins. He played 24 snaps. In his 22 snaps that weren’t kneel-downs, the Vikings gained 150 yards (6.8 yards per snap) and scored three touchdowns. And that doesn’t include a 27-yard completion that was negated by a holding penalty on running back Latavius Murray.
“We prepared the whole week for this; go in there and beef it up with an extra tackle who can play tight end,” Collins said. “That’s a good defense. Just line up and push their big guys back.”
After the Bears opened the game with a three-and-out, the Vikings waited just two snaps before bringing Collins in. Murray gained 6 yards. Collins stayed in. Murray gained another 6 yards.
On the seven-play, 70-yard drive, Collins was on the field for four runs for 18 yards and Murray’s 1-yard touchdown.
Not bad for a guy who had played in only two NFL games and hadn’t taken a single snap on offense.
“He’s a valuable guy,” Shurmur said of the big fella who started 36 of 48 games at TCU. “He has some traits that he can get in there and be a tight end type of body. Some of those play-action situations, I think he did great today.”
Collins was on the field for 18 runs and four passes. The runs gained 102 of the team’s 147 rushing yards, including both of Murray’s 1-yard scores. The passes gained 48 yards, including Stefon Diggs’ 15-yard touchdown.
Meanwhile, Rudolph was targeted just three times, catching one pass for 3 yards. But he came through the limited reps healthy and now has an extra week to heal.
“I have to thank that tight end group for helping me out this week,” Collins said. “They got me going. This really was the first time I’ve played in a game. Those guys really helped get my confidence up.”
So, Aviante, are there any other positions you can play?
“Hey, I’m willing to learn, willing to help,” he said. “I would have gone to wide receiver today if they wanted me to. But this worked out pretty well for us.”