Running back Adrian Peterson has come back to be the star of the Vikings offense, but one of the unsung heroes of Peterson’s great rushing season is Rhett Ellison, the former Southern California tight end whom the Vikings drafted in the fourth round of the 2012 draft. His great blocking is a big reason for the team’s successful running game.
Ellison is having a productive season offensively with nine receptions for 85 yards and a touchdown, already the second-highest total of his career behind last year’s 19 receptions for 208 yards and a touchdown, but he is really making his presence felt with his blocking.
Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll recruited and coached Ellison at Southern California. When the Vikings drafted him, Carroll said: “He’s a perfect caliber tight end for the pros. He may not catch many passes, but he’ll block with the best of them.” And he has done just that.
When CBS Sports ran its 2012 draft ranking, it ranked Ellison the seventh-best tight end available in the draft, but even he didn’t really think he would be drafted because he switched positions his senior season.
“Yes, I definitely was [surprised],” he said. “I just remember my senior year at USC, they moved my position. I became a fullback [and] really didn’t have the kind of stats to show for it, so I wasn’t expecting to get drafted. I was expecting to try out to make a team, so when it did happen I was very surprised.”
Ellison remembered meeting with the Vikings coaching staff at the NFL combine that year, but their conversation was mostly about tackle Matt Kalil, Ellison’s college teammate and the Vikings’ first-round pick that year.
“We had a meeting at the combine, but that was mostly about Matt Kalil, so I didn’t think I was heading there at the time,” Ellison said. “And then when they called me the day of the draft, I mean I had no idea [they’d pick me]. They hadn’t talked to me since the combine.”
Ellison explained that his role with the Vikings has become fluid, depending on each week’s offensive game plan.
“I’m kind of the X position, so the X guy is kind of the shift/motion guy, does a lot of blocking, does pass protection and can get into routes as well, so I just pretty much do whatever they need,” Ellison said.
Ellison said he wasn’t necessarily a natural blocker coming out of high school at St. Francis in Mountain View, Calif., where he was ranked by one recruiting service as the No. 23 tight end in the country. He said he learned a lot at USC.
“I think you have to be taught technique, and you have to consistently work on it every day,” Ellison said. “And that’s kind of how I got into it with those teams with Pete Carroll. I was lucky just to get on the field. I had to know how to block because there were a lot of athletes and a lot of talent, so that’s where I saw my chance to play at USC. That’s how it started.”
Ellison was asked how it feels to play alongside Kalil in the pros.
“I think he’s one of the best guys I’ve been around,” Ellison said. “He just really cares about his teammates, and you know when he goes out there, he’s going to give it his all, so it’s always fun to play with a guy like that. He took a lot of heat last year, but it didn’t keep him down.”
Bowl game important
There has been some talk about whether the Gophers football team, with a 5-7 record, should turn down a bowl bid if it is offered.
Well, I have spent a lot of time on campus when the Gophers have been invited to some of the least-acclaimed bowl games there are, and what counts are the 15 days of extra practice they receive, plus additional practice days once they reach the site of the game.
There hasn’t been a conflict between extra practices and going to class when the Gophers went to lower-rated bowls, because school is not in session. Some players have told me their chances to play the next season would have never happened if it weren’t for the extra practices.
Believe me, football coaches would rather be invited to a top bowl, but if not, any bowl is better than none. They’ll take anything because all that counts is the 15 extra days of practice that leads to winning games in the future.
• There has been a lot of media talk about the play of wide receiver Mike Wallace, who has caught only 28 passes for 318 yards and one touchdown this season compared to 48 passes for 592 yards and seven touchdowns through 11 games with Miami a year ago. But a lot of the Vikings receivers numbers are down because the team is focusing on running the ball. For instance, Jarius Wright caught 26 passes for 315 yards through 11 games a year ago, but so far this season he has caught only 19 passes for 257 yards. … With safety Harrison Smith unable to play last week because of a knee injury, Antone Exum got his first start and played all 64 snaps against the Falcons. Asked how he felt he performed, Exum said: “I definitely have things to work on, but I knew that after the game with it being my first start and stuff. Little nuance things to work on. So we will take that into the next game, if I am playing.” With Smith still ailing, Exum might start again.
• I doubt that any of the pro teams in any other city in the country contribute to charities as much as the Twins, Vikings, Wild and Timberwolves do here. Typical of those contributions was Vikings chief operating officer Kevin Warren and his wife, Greta, providing a Thanksgiving dinner for more than 200 patients, their families and staff at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.
• Seattle Seahawks General Manager John Schneider is a University of St. Thomas graduate who is one of the big reasons the team has gone to two consecutive Super Bowls, winning in 2014 and just missing a repeat last year when Russell Wilson was intercepted on the Patriots 1-yard line late in the game. Schneider was responsible for hiring Carroll to coach the Seahawks.
• Gophers sophomore tight end Brandon Lingen was a great scholar at Wayzata High School, and now has been named to the CoSIDA Academic All-America second team. Lingen, who has a 3.85 GPA, followed Maxx Williams, who last season made the CoSIDA first team and is now with the Baltimore Ravens. Lingen played in 11 games this year and started 10, catching 28 passes for 395 yards and three touchdowns.