Officially, Rhett Ellison is listed as a fullback on the Vikings roster. Realistically, he has been used more like a tight end (the position group he practices with) or an H-back.
There are many ways to look at role of the second-year Viking, but it's clear that role will be increasing with the three-game suspension handed to Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton.
"He's one of the hardest working players on our team. It's hard to outwork Rhett. He comes prepared every single day," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "Seeing his work ethic his rookie year, I was so impressed. You just don't see very many rookies with his maturity and just understanding the time that you have to put in to be good at your craft. He has not let up from his rookie season. He's still an extremely hard worker. He's always prepared, always understands what his role is, what the situations are. I don't think we can overwork him. He's going to be prepared to work. He'll be ready when we line up against Detroit. But, yes, we could add more to his plate and we probably will have to now."
Last year, as a fourth-round draft choice, Ellison saw action on 24 percent of the offensive snaps, essentially the same amount as veteran tight end John Carlson, who struggled with injury in his first season with the Vikings.
Kyle Rudolph, the pass-catching star of the position group, was in on 92 percent of the snaps.
The Vikings spent a lot of time during training camp using either Carlson or Ellison in the backfield. Frazier admitted Tuesday that the team knew Felton's suspension was a possibility before training camp, and even before they re-signed Felton to a three-year, $7.5 million contract that included a $2 million signing bonus. Felton's suspension was the product of him getting his second DUI in 2012 and the appeals process taking more than a year.
"You always knew that there was potential. You didn't know if it would happen," Frazier said. "His incident, as referenced earlier, was some time ago. But it was always looming that this could possibly happen.
"… He was a priority for us like a few other guys we re-signed that were part of our roster. We did not want to lose Jerome. He was a Pro Bowl player for us. He really helped our run game."
The Vikings' use of tight ends in the backfield during training camp, combined with Felton's emergency appendectomy at the end of camp, lends credence to the theory that Ellison will see extended time.
Rookie fullback Zach Line is also a possibility for lead blocking in the first three games if he makes the team, but so far Line has been better as a pass catcher out of the backfield than a lead-blocking fullback.
The Vikings used plenty of two-tight end sets Sunday night, and even had three tight ends on the field twice in the first half (passing on both of those plays).
"We have some other guys who will have to step up and make some plays for us, which we expect them to do," Frazier said. "Jerome was a very important part of our offense a season ago. He was a Pro Bowl player; we'll miss him. But we do have some other players who are capable. And we'll utilize their talents to allow us to have the success that we need those weeks in his absence.
"Between (Ellison and Line) and some of the other things that we do, we think we'll have some answers."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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