Thursday afternoon, former Vikings fullback Jerome Felton tweeted out a picture of his Pro Bowl jersey — the one he earned after a season blocking for NFL MVP Adrian Peterson in 2012 — and appealed to “everybody that’s a Vikings fan or a fan of old-school winning football” to vote current fullback C.J. Ham into the Pro Bowl.
“Unfortunately they’re trying to kill us off but the @Vikings always keep a beast at FB!!!” Felton tweeted. “It means more than you guys know so go vote!”
If the position, and the anachronistic approach that makes it an important part of an offense, is something of an endangered species in the NFL, the Vikings’ scheme can be considered a refuge. And if that’s the case, Gary Kubiak is one of its caretakers.
The Vikings’ assistant head coach, who this Sunday will face a Broncos team for which he played or coached in six Super Bowls, has helped usher in a resurgence of run-heavy game plans, frequent use of tight ends and fullbacks and under-center dropbacks in Minnesota. The Vikings’ offense is ranked in the NFL’s top 10 in both yards and points, less than a year after an identity crisis that led coach Mike Zimmer to end offensive coordinator John DeFilippo’s tenure after 13 games, and Zimmer this week called Kubiak “probably the best thing that’s happened to me since I’ve been here.”
“I love the way his offense is, the way the scheme is, the things that he’s seen over the years running the offense,” Zimmer said. “Gary [Kubiak] told me when he came, one of the things that was important for him was, he wants to keep the offense moving that way. For him to be able to come in and mentor a young coordinator was really important. To me, that’s about talking about your particular scheme and making sure that carries on in the future. I think that part was as important to me as anything.”
The approach Kubiak (who turned down interview requests this week) used while calling plays for the Broncos and Texans in the 2000s is alive and well in Minnesota on the eve of the 2020s. The Vikings have fashioned a 7-3 record by keeping quarterback Kirk Cousins under center more than any passer in the NFL (according to Sharp Football), and they’ve found key contributors at positions that have been phased out of many teams.
“C.J. had pointed out earlier — I think he said there’s only like six teams that carry a fullback, or something like that,” running back Alexander Mattison said. “It’s unique. I think that, definitely, the way we’re running it, and we’re being effective in how we’re running this offense. It’s something that’s special and unique to us.”
Mattison, whose work consists of spelling NFL rushing leader Dalvin Cook, ranks 28th in the NFL with 389 rushing yards — a total that would lead the Chiefs, Chargers, Lions, Dolphins, Cardinals, Steelers or Falcons.
Even though Ham has played more than any fullback in the NFL this season, his usage is still modest compared to how much fullbacks played a little more than a decade ago — he’s on pace to play 277 snaps for the season, which would have tied him for seventh in the league in 2009 and placed him 14th in 2006, according to Pro Football Focus.
The former Augustana running back, though, is as much of an avatar for Kubiak’s influence as any player on the Vikings’ roster, and the Vikings have found a niche with a style of play that is rarely copied in a league where offenses have spread themselves out and defenses have responded with players better suited to the open field.
“What we’re trying to do is what’s best for us,” Stefanski said. “I know what’s out there, and I see it, but we just kind of look at our guys and what we’ve developed here. It’s who we are, and it speaks to the players we have.”