As it turned out, Carlson was the focus of the team's free-agent pursuit this offseason – easily their most expensive signing – but he hasn't been the focus of their offense yet. He has the sixth-most expensive contract on an average-per-year basis on the team, but he is only tied for eighth in receptions (three) and is averaging only 2.7 yards per catch.
"My role in the offense, it's not where I would like it to be, but I understand why it is that way. I missed some time and other guys stepped up. That's kind of how it works in football. They don't wait if you get hurt or they don't wait if you miss time or whatever," Carlson said. "My approach is just work as hard as I can and get better every day. It's not my job to call plays or throw the ball or do those things, so I don't worry about that stuff."
Carlson missed the entire preseason with a sprained medial collateral ligament. At the beginning of the season, that was getting back to normal, but Carlson and head coach Leslie Frazier both said the knee isn't an issue anymore.
QB Christian Ponder said he understands Carlson wants more passes thrown his way but hasn't shown his frustration to this point.
"He's a team player. He's a really good teammate. Anyone in his position would want more balls, but he's never shown that, he's never shown any frustration," Ponder said. "He caught one ball last week and I missed him on a throw. He's getting open. I just have to keep doing a better job of getting him the ball and not miss throws."
Sunday against the Washington Redskins was the first time Carlson was even targeted more than once in a game. He was thrown at twice by Ponder, catching one of them for 7 yards. After starting the season without a catch in the first three games, Carlson has one catch in each of the last three games.
It's a sign of progress, but it's clearly nowhere near the level he reached with the Seattle Seahawks.
As a rookie in 2008, he caught 55 passes for 627 yards and five touchdowns. The following season, he started all 16 games and caught 51 passes for 574 yards and seven touchdowns. The numbers dropped in 2010, when he had 31 receptions for 318 yards and one touchdown, and last year spent the season on injured reserve.
"It feels good to play real football again. I missed all of last season being on IR and I missed preseason this year because of the knee issues," he said. "To be out there and to hit people and be involved in the run game, I enjoy that."
He would enjoy being hit with the football more often, too, but a repeating theme in an interview with him Wednesday was his feeling that the Vikings have a lot of weapons and others are getting their chance right now.
"I think what's happened is guys have stepped up and played well and made plays and found roles in the offense. I haven't quite done that quite yet and I have to keep working," Carlson said.
"We've got a ton of weapons on offense. Do I want to do more? Of course I want to do more. I'm a competitor and I want to help this team win. But we're 4-2 right now and that's the most important thing."
Carlson said getting familiar with the Vikings offense hasn't been an issue. He had a new offensive coordinator in each of his four seasons with the Seahawks, so he is used to adjusting to new schemes and still being productive.
He said the Vikings are employing plenty of two-tight end sets for another one to be used in conjunction with the workhorse of the group, Kyle Rudolph, who has been targeted 42 times for 25 catches, 225 yards and five touchdowns, the most of any tight end in the league. Meanwhile, Carlson has been targeted only six times and Ellison four times – each of them have three catches.
Rudolph has easily been used the most. He has played in 100 percent of the offensive snaps in four of the six games and 94 percent of the 416 snaps total. Carlson has never played in more than 38 percent of the snaps, and overall has played in only 28 percent of the snaps – 116 of the 416 for the season. Ellison, the rookie, has played in 18 percent of the offensive snaps this season, but against Tennessee two weeks ago he played one more snap than Carlson, 22 to 21.
"When you join a new team or when a new offensive coordinator comes in, you never know how things are going to play out until things play out and you have a season. Injuries happen and guys step up, guys don't step up. When I came in here, yes, I did expect to be a big part of the offense, but we've got a ton of weapons here," Carlson said. "… I'm not going to worry about the coaches' jobs. That's what they do. They determine who plays, how much and where the ball is thrown, whose number is called in the pass game."
So far, Carlson's number has only been called an average of once per game.
FORMER VIKINGS SHUFFLE
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.