The Vikings tight end, whose long hair was draped into his helmet as he went in motion to block for Adrian Peterson, was unmistakable.
David Morgan’s future duties may leave him largely anonymous, but the rookie continues to fill a prominent role in the starting offense this summer. He’s stepped into the spot filled last season by Rhett Ellison, the blocking specialist who is still sidelined by a knee injury suffered in January.
As Morgan adjusts to the NFL, he’s tasked with picking up nuances of a position often only noticed when a block results in a big play. In 471 snaps last season, Ellison caught just 11 passes.
“We play very similar roles, so he’s a guy I seek a lot on the backfield stuff,” Morgan said. “The protection and a lot of the dirty work like that.”
“Dirty work” is why the Vikings drafted Morgan in the sixth round this spring. Shortly after selecting Morgan, a former Texas high school receiver, General Manager Rick Spielman touted him as the best blocking tight end in the draft while noting Ellison’s recovery from a torn patellar tendon isn’t a sure thing.
He’s no Ellison, yet. The 23-year-old Morgan (6-4, 265) still is learning the complexities of NFL defenses. They provide him more moving targets and varied fronts than his opponents at the University of Texas-San Antonio.
The Vikings are giving Morgan many opportunities to grow.
“I think he’s doing a good job blocking,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “He still has moments where he has to continue to do better. … But if you just lined him up one-on-one and said block this guy, and the guy was going to be there, he’d be pretty good.”
Morgan flashed that potential in the preseason opener last week. When the Bengals nearly tackled Jerick McKinnon for a safety, he found room for a 10-yard gain on the opposite side, where Morgan helped bulldoze the backside defensive end.
This offense might need that kind of extra road grader for Peterson. Morgan says he’s up for the challenge.
“Not a lot of people like to do that,” Morgan said. “I take pride in it.”
The Wright stuff
Receiver Jarius Wright has been sidelined since Aug. 6, but he said Tuesday he’s expecting to return to practice sooner rather than later. Wright expects preseason snaps, though not likely against the Seahawks on Thursday.
“I’m doing pretty good,” Wright said. “I’ll definitely be back to play in a preseason game. I’m not really sure which one yet.”
Since Zimmer has not revealed the nature of his injury, Wright did not want to reveal what ails him. He did acknowledge the sleeve on his lower left leg was not a fashion statement.
“It kind of gives it away,” Wright said.
If practices this summer are any indication, quarterbacks will need to watch out for fourth-year cornerback Xavier Rhodes this season.
Rhodes has come away with an interception almost daily, including Tuesday, when he picked off Teddy Bridgewater’s goal-line throw to Adam Thielen near the left pylon.
“This is the first time that I’ve really seen him go after the football since I’ve been here,” Zimmer said. “There have been some plays where he really tries to intercept it, as opposed to just covering them.”
Nine players again were held out of Tuesday’s practice, which the Vikings conducted without pads in the final tune-up before the trip to Seattle.
The injured include four starters in defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (knee), linebacker Eric Kendricks (hamstring), Wright (undisclosed) and guard Brandon Fusco (undisclosed). Floyd deferred comment to Zimmer, who rarely discusses injuries.
Also still held out were safety Anthony Harris, linebacker Brandon Watts, defensive tackle Scott Crichton and cornerbacks Melvin White and Tre Roberson.