Versatility a strength of Ballard's game

Christian Ballard is expecting to see more time as a defensive tackle, but he can also play end and was recruited as a tight end. Ballard talked about the questions surrounding him on the field and avoided those surrounding a reported failed drug test.

The Vikings have a lengthy history of taking defensive ends in the fourth round of the draft. It's become something of tradition. In 2006, they took Ray Edwards. In 2007, they drafted Brian Robison. In 2008, they traded for Jared Allen, a fourth-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2004. After not having a fourth-rounder in 2009, they continued the tradition last year, by drafting Everson Griffen in the fourth round.

The tradition continued today, as the Vikings made defensive lineman Christian Ballard of Iowa their fourth-round draft pick in the 2011 draft.

Ballard, viewed by many as a second-round prospect, was one of three players that reportedly failed a drug test at the Combine in February. Ballard declined to discuss specifics, claiming confidentiality, but was alleged to have tested positive for marijuana at the Combine. He thinks it adversely affected his draft stock, but added that he is happy to be in the NFL, whether that became official Friday (when the second- and third-round picks were made) or in the fourth round Saturday.

"I would have liked to go a little higher, but that's O.K.," Ballard said. "I'm with a great program with a great coach and I just thank them for picking me up and I'm ready to get to work."

Ballard said he wasn't convinced that the positive test for marijuana dropped his stock or not, but said that prior indiscretions won't impact his professional future.

"I'm not really sure what caused (my stock to drop)," Ballard said. "I've made mistakes in the past. I'm only looking to the future. I'm a Viking now. Whatever happened in the past is behind me."

He added that the drop on the draft board was a little hard to handle emotionally on Friday, but said it will serve him well as he starts his NFL career as the newest Vikings D-lineman.

"You get all kinds of emotions," Ballard said. "Everybody wants to get taken early, but it's a motivation. I'm going to fight for that next contract. I'm going to do whatever I can to get on the field early and use everything I can – all my abilities – to help the team win."

His selling point to the Vikings may well be his versatility. A durable, three-year starter who made starts in all 39 games the last three seasons, the Iowa coaching staff shuttled him around both inside and outside. As a true sophomore in 2008, he started 13 games at left defensive end. As a junior, he moved inside. Last season, he started eight games at LDE and five at DT, primarily because the coaching staff needed him to move him around to maximize his talent.

"I moved inside because that's what the team needed," Ballard said. "They wanted me to play both (end and tackle), so I played both. I've always wanted to help the team out. It's put me in a great position, so I can excel at either one. I'm definitely grateful for that."

Ballard isn't the only celebrity in his family. His great uncle Hank was the lead singer of the R&B trio Hank Ballard and the Midnighters and made his biggest splash by writing the Chubby Checker hit "The Twist." Christian has his own musical background, being an accomplished cello and bass player. But, his playing days for the string section are on hold as his football prowess takes priority.

He didn't help his cause at the Combine. Aside from the failed drug test, he opted not to lift in Indianapolis because bench-room strength isn't his strong suit. He did lift at his Pro Day, but some scouts dropped his value due to his reluctance to lift at the Combine.

Ballard admits he has some areas that need improving, but, given the Vikings history of developing mid-round linemen, he thinks the process will be quicker than it might have been elsewhere.

"I've got to keep my pad level down and working my hands a little more," Ballard said. "It's not just one part of my game. I can get better in every part of my game and that's what I'm going to try my best to do. All that stuff is going to come, especially with the coaching staff they have with the Vikings, it's going to be easy."

As it stands, Ballard's versatility will give the Vikings an added bonus as they attempt to re-work their defensive line, which will likely be without Pat Williams, will probably be without Kevin Williams for the first four games and quite possibly will be without Edwards, who will likely be granted free agency when it finally begins.

Ballard said the Vikings have indicated that they want him to play tackle, but his ability to play both tackle and end at a high level will be his key to success at the next level,

"Right now, I think they want me at defensive tackle," Ballard said. "I'm just willing to play wherever they need me to play at. Playing both has given me the opportunity so I can take my game to the next level at either position."




John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.



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\r\n\r\n","mobileBody":" The Vikings have a lengthy history of taking defensive ends in the fourth round of the draft. It's become something of tradition. In 2006, they took Ray Edwards. In 2007, they drafted Brian Robison. In 2008, they traded for Jared Allen, a fourth-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2004. After not having a fourth-rounder in 2009, they continued the tradition last year, by drafting Everson Griffen in the fourth round. The tradition continued today, as the Vikings made defensive lineman Christian Ballard of Iowa their fourth-round draft pick in the 2011 draft. Ballard, viewed by many as a second-round prospect, was one of three players that reportedly failed a drug test at the Combine in February. Ballard declined to discuss specifics, claiming confidentiality, but was alleged to have tested positive for marijuana at the Combine. He thinks it adversely affected his draft stock, but added that he is happy to be in the NFL, whether that became official Friday (when the second- and third-round picks were made) or in the fourth round Saturday. \"I would have liked to go a little higher, but that's O.K.,\" Ballard said. \"I'm with a great program with a great coach and I just thank them for picking me up and I'm ready to get to work.\" Ballard said he wasn't convinced that the positive test for marijuana dropped his stock or not, but said that prior indiscretions won't impact his professional future. \"I'm not really sure what caused (my stock to drop),\" Ballard said. \"I've made mistakes in the past. I'm only looking to the future. I'm a Viking now. Whatever happened in the past is behind me.\" He added that the drop on the draft board was a little hard to handle emotionally on Friday, but said it will serve him well as he starts his NFL career as the newest Vikings D-lineman. \"You get all kinds of emotions,\" Ballard said. \"Everybody wants to get taken early, but it's a motivation. I'm going to fight for that next contract. I'm going to do whatever I can to get on the field early and use everything I can – all my abilities – to help the team win.\" His selling point to the Vikings may well be his versatility. A durable, three-year starter who made starts in all 39 games the last three seasons, the Iowa coaching staff shuttled him around both inside and outside. As a true sophomore in 2008, he started 13 games at left defensive end. As a junior, he moved inside. Last season, he started eight games at LDE and five at DT, primarily because the coaching staff needed him to move him around to maximize his talent. \"I moved inside because that's what the team needed,\" Ballard said. \"They wanted me to play both (end and tackle), so I played both. I've always wanted to help the team out. It's put me in a great position, so I can excel at either one. I'm definitely grateful for that.\" Ballard isn't the only celebrity in his family. His great uncle Hank was the lead singer of the R&B trio Hank Ballard and the Midnighters and made his biggest splash by writing the Chubby Checker hit \"The Twist.\" Christian has his own musical background, being an accomplished cello and bass player. But, his playing days for the string section are on hold as his football prowess takes priority. He didn't help his cause at the Combine. Aside from the failed drug test, he opted not to lift in Indianapolis because bench-room strength isn't his strong suit. 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Ballard said the Vikings have indicated that they want him to play tackle, but his ability to play both tackle and end at a high level will be his key to success at the next level, \"Right now, I think they want me at defensive tackle,\" Ballard said. \"I'm just willing to play wherever they need me to play at. 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