A sprained medial collateral ligament for John Carlson immediately boosted rookie Rhett Ellison's status on the depth chart.
After Carlson suffered a Grade 2 sprain in his right MCL Tuesday afternoon, Ellison was taking turns with the first-team offense in two-tight end sets Wednesday morning. But, despite a glowing review of his work ethic from head coach Leslie Frazier, Ellison admitted his head is "swimming" in the details of the Vikings offense.
"It's getting there, but the head's kind of swimming a little bit. It's coming along," Ellison said about his comfortable level with the offense.
While Kyle Rudolph and Carlson excel in the passing game, Ellison can offer a well-rounded mix of blocking and pass-catching from the tight end position.
The fourth-round draft pick started 31 games at USC and finished his career with 53 catches for 471 yards and six touchdowns, earning All-Pac 12 honors on special teams as a senior.
"Rhett has been impressive from The Opening day. When we got back together when we had our rookie minicamp, just seeing how he approaches the game, I don't want to put him too far out there. He really shows a maturity that you don't always see from rookies," head coach Leslie Frazier said.
Ellison's father, Riki, was a two-time Super Bowl winner during his 10 seasons with the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders. Frazier figured some of Riki's work ethic may have been passed down to Rhett.
"His preparation, his attention to detail, it's second to none. He's a guy that works extremely hard," Frazier said. "You can see him after practice, pre-practice, doing things that you would expect a veteran player to be doing to prepare for a meeting, a practice. And then after practice, the tape that he watches. He's been very impressive in the short time we've had him."
Ellison said the most important thing for him, especially in Carlson's absence, is to show the coaches that he knows where he is supposed to be and what his assignment is on any given play.
"First, they've got to trust that I know the plays and all that kind of stuff, know where to line up – all the simple stuff," Ellison said. "And then it's the NFL, so I've got to be able to block these guys and be able to run routes on these guys. Everything needs to improve."
Ellison was making no bold predictions about his potential production or even playing time during the season, saying for now the task is to make the team. Some of the concepts in the offense are similar to those at USC, he said, but the Vikings incorporate a more extensive playbook.
After Carlson's injury, Ellison and the other backup tight ends on the roster – Mickey Shuler and Allen Reisner – will get more opportunities, but none of them are as experienced as Carlson, who signed a five-year, $25 million contract.
Carlson's return to practice is expected in a week or two, according to Frazier, who said tight end's pain tolerance will dictate the timeline for his return.
"It was unfortunate, but it happens," Rudolph said of Carlson's injury. "John is going to do everything he can to get back out there in a hurry."
Frazier explained how Carlson's injury happened.
"He was blocking someone and another guy fell on the back of his leg and that tends to happen sometimes when you're doing drills," Frazier said. "It can happen. Legs get caught up. Guys get tripped up and fall. I don't know whether it would have really mattered if we were in pads or not in pads in that situation."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Ellison's ‘swimming' but getting good reviews
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