Thursday, February 11, 2016

rhett ellison

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More than just Jim Kleinsasser 2.0

Minnesota Vikings tight end Rhett Ellison is a key contributor
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Rhett Ellison tries to stand up, but his right knee won’t let him. One step, and the leg gives out. Something’s wrong. Seriously wrong.

There’s a little over 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Game, and Teddy Bridgewater throws a pass to Ellison out of the backfield. The tight end turns upfield, but Green Bay Packers linebacker Nick Perry pulls him down from behind. His right leg gets stuck in the ground and suddenly “pops.” It’s a torn patellar tendon, an injury that’ll keep him down for at least six months.

Down, but not out. That’s because Ellison represents every cliché in the football book; tough, gritty, hardworking, reliable. An injury is just another obstacle, much like the defenders he meets in the trenches or safeties swarming to tackle him down the field. It’s Ellison’s job to recover and make it back onto the field this offseason, and it’s a job he’ll gladly accept.

No matter what the Vikings have asked of Ellison, he’s done so without hesitation. Line up in front of Adrian Peterson as a fullback? Check. Spilt out as a slot wide receiver? Check? Contribute on every special teams unit? Check. He’s the Swiss Army Knife in Mike Zimmer’s pocket, and the tool these Vikings will need in 2016. Set to become a free agent this March, Ellison deserves one more shot in Minnesota, whether fully healthy or not. Without him, the Vikings are another crucial piece away from the Super Bowl.

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Vikings Dan Campbell coach
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

In the NFL, no coaching staff remains completely the same from year to year. Often times, assistants find better opportunities elsewhere or are promoted from within. That was the case for former Miami Dolphins head coach Dan Campbell, who replaced Joe Philbin and went 5-7 in the interim role. According to reports from the Houston Chronicle’s Aaron Wilson, the Minnesota Vikings recently inquired about Campbell, who was granted his release after the team hired Adam Gase as its next head coach.

The Vikings were one of three (Cowboys, Chargers) teams to express interest in Campbell, a former NFL tight end and tight ends coach with the Miami Dolphins. He took over head coaching duties in Week 5, going 5-7 in 12 games at the helm. His stint started with a bang, as Campbell led the team to two straight blowout victories over the Titans and Texans. But the Dolphins struggled down the stretch, losing seven of their last 10 games to finish the year 6-10.

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Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Those of us that observe the Minnesota Vikings carefully know that the Vikings lost more than just a backup tight end when Rhett Ellison suffered a significant knee injury against the Packers on Sunday night.

They lost a key part of the weekly game plan and a guy that has helped immensely when it comes to making this offensive line look less terrible than they really are.

Ellison is part of a Vikings tradition that predates Adrian Peterson’s arrival to Minnesota. That tradition, which was passed along to Ellison by career-long Viking Jim Kleinsasser, is to essentially place a sixth offensive lineman on the field who is disguised as a tight end.

Sure, both Kleinsasser and Ellison can catch and run and all of that… but, let’s be honest, we know how those guys earn their paychecks.

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Photo courtesy of Vikings.com

After celebrating their NFC North Division title victory over the Green Bay Packers last evening, the Vikings were brought back down to earth by some discouraging news today. Minnesota tight end Rhett Ellison tore the patellar tendon in his right knee against the Packers and will not be able to participate in any Vikings postseason games in this season.

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Image courtesy of Vikings.com

At 8-3, the Minnesota Vikings are the surprise team in the NFC and a legitimate threat to claim the NFC North division title. With the league’s second-best scoring defense and Mike Zimmer’s steady hand leading the ship, Minnesota has — at the very least — a 90 percent probability to reach the postseason.

When the Vikings lost to the San Francisco 49ers to open the season, a playoff berth appeared unlikely. The defense couldn’t stop the run, Adrian Peterson ran like a 30-year-old running back, and the offensive line looked lost without John Sullivan and Phil Loadholt. Mike Zimmer’s team lacked an identity early on, but they’ve slowly established themselves as one of the NFL’s most physical, technically sound teams on both sides of the ball.

As I’ve written these “What Went Right” pieces, I’ve noticed a consistent pattern. When the Vikings win, it’s because of the defense and the legs of Adrian Peterson. Specifically, the defense plays with discipline, filling run gaps correctly, tackling in space, and preventing big plays down the field. On offense, Minnesota wins when they unleash Peterson, who has at least 19 carries in every Vikings victory this season. Any less, and they’ve gone on to lose.

While the defense created turnovers against Atlanta in Week 12, it was Peterson who powered Minnesota to victory. This Sunday, when the Vikings host the Seattle Seahawks, he’ll need to do the same against an aggressive, stout run defense that hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher all season.

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