Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Vikings Territory staffer Drew Mahowald spoke with David Morgan about his role increasing as he approaches his second season.

For nearly 20 years now, the Minnesota Vikings have boasted a blue-chip, jack-of-all-trades tight end in their offense.

This role features a player who can line up in several different formations and fulfill many blocking roles and still be effective as a receiver.

Jim Kleinsasser first occupied this role when he was drafted in 1999. As his 13-year career concluded, Rhett Ellison gained control of the role for the next five seasons before signing with the New York Giants this offseason.

That role is now open for the taking, but second-year man David Morgan and his luxurious locks have the inside track on the role in 2017, both via his skill set and his experience. Morgan has a lot of respect for what Ellison brought to the table for the Vikings.

“Rhett was a great player and a very very big part of our offense,” Morgan said. “He was definitely a guy I looked up to. He did so many things for us and he left big shoes to fill.”

Morgan, a sixth-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, did not see the field too often as a rookie due to a combination of injuries and Ellison’s prominent role in the offense.

That will change in 2017.

Morgan has been thrust into an extensive first-team role throughout training camp, especially in red zone situational drills. In one drill on Thursday, Morgan put together a really nice sequence that showed off his versatility both as a blocker and as a receiver.

In the first play of the sequence, the Vikings offense lined up in a jumbo set with Morgan as the offset tight end on the right side. Bishop Sankey received a handoff on an iso run play up the middle and Morgan sprang off the line of scrimmage and into his down block assignment. He met linebacker Emmanuel Lamur in the middle of the hole and drove him several feet left with ease, opening the gap for Sankey to score from the five-yard line.

On the following rep, Morgan lined up in the slot and ran a corner route as part of what looked like a smash concept. The throw from Case Keenum was slightly high, but Morgan’s underrated athleticism and giant paws were able to make the catch in the back of the end zone.

That flexibility to line up in so many places and perform so many different tasks is what makes Morgan such a valuable contributor for Pat Shurmur in his second season.

“The game has slowed down for me and I’m able to grasp the offense a bit better,” Morgan said. “We like to use a lot of two tight end sets and so whenever I’m called upon, whether it be in the red zone or wherever, I’ll be ready to do my thing.”

With a bigger role comes more respect, especially within the tight end group. Morgan enters the 2017 season as the most experienced tight end on the Vikings roster outside of Kyle Rudolph, which is a drastic change from Morgan’s experience in his rookie season training camp.

It appears as if Morgan’s role will grow both on and off the football field.

“It’s funny because last year I was the new guy and I was the one asking all the questions,” Morgan said. And we had an older room with Rudy, Rhett and MyCole (Pruitt) who was in his second year. It’s kind of crazy how fast it has turned around because now, besides Rudy, I’m the only one with a training camp under his belt. And suddenly I’m the one being asked questions.”

If all goes as expected, Minnesota will continue to boast a special jack-of-all-trades tight end once again in 2017, a valuable role that many teams fail to fill. Morgan’s developing skill set and sudden emergence as a leader have his potential soaring.

And his experience in 2017 training camp is a big reason for it.

“It’s definitely made me grow a lot as a player,” Morgan said. “Being able to help the younger guys and have some experience now is great. I’m excited.”