Undrafted fullback likely to pave way for MVP

Zach Line went undrafted and was asked to make a position switch for the Vikings. Now, with Jerome Felton suspended, Line apparently will be asked to block for Adrian Peterson, the NFL MVP. Line, Peterson and Leslie Frazier talked about the challenge and Line's progress.

The Minnesota Vikings are apparently ready to have the only undrafted rookie that made the team replace their Pro Bowl fullback and become the lead blocker for the NFL MVP.

It all could seem a little overwhelming for Zach Line, especially given that it essentially involves a position switch for the former SMU record-setting running back who was moved to fullback when the Vikings started their offseason practices.

"We were in the run-and-shoot (at SMU) so the only blocking I did was pass protection. We ran the ball a lot, so it's a big transition," Line said. "We ran this in high school, the formation, pounding the rock, so that's what I like. I guess you believe whatever you're playing and you buy in. That's how you are a player. I've got to buy back into a pound-the-rock team. I think I've done that well. It just takes some getting used to. More guys in the box, more guys going in the same direction. But I think it's going well."

Of course, he won't know for sure just how well it is going until Sunday afternoon when he is expected to experience his first NFL game against the Detroit Lions. It will also be his first time blocking in a game for reigning NFL MVP Adrian Peterson, who played only two snaps the whole preseason, both of them play-action fakes.

Line is expected in the lineup because Jerome Felton, who made the Pro Bowl last year after helping Peterson to a 2,097-yard season rushing, is suspended for the first three games for violating the league's policy on substance abuse.

Felton also had an emergency appendectomy during training camp, which helped immerse Line in his new lead-blocking role with more preseason game action.

"I watched a lot of film on Jerome and Adrian from previous games last year. I have a good general idea of how fast Jerome is and I just wanted to see how fast Adrian hits it. He hits it hard, so really all he wants you to do is get to your guy and if your guy isn't there don't break down, don't look – just go. He just wants you to get on your track and go," Line said.

"If there is a guy in your way, he doesn't want you to jump around. He just wants you to get around and go because he'll make them miss. He'll make the first guy miss. He's able to do that. As long as you're getting upfield and you're finding work, he'll find a way to get off you and break a tackle off you."

In some ways, Line's experience at running back might actually help him when running in front of Peterson.

"I try to tell him to think like a running back. Don't get too caught up in the Xs and Os," Peterson said. "Sometimes just go out there and play football. I think if you approach it that way, it'll be OK."

Peterson has said in the past that he prefers to run without a fullback in front of him, but many of his best runs last year were with Felton leading the way. Now that duty apparently will fall on Line for the first three games, with head coach Leslie Frazier giving every indication that the undrafted rookie will play Sunday.

"He's really improved. He's not quite where we'd like him to be, but he's improved a lot," Frazier said. "He was more of a runner at SMU, but he showed us in preseason, which is one of the reasons he made our club, that he could be a good lead blocker. I think he'll do an adequate job for us on Sunday, but it's an area that he'll continue to work on, continue improve on."

The Vikings also have been working with tight ends John Carlson and Rhett Ellison in the backfield.

It's clear Line is taking his duties seriously. After Wednesday's practice, he summoned his position coach, James Saxon, back to coach him on his technique while hitting a blocking sled. Line said the key is leverage, along with another obvious difference.

"Now you're not trying to avoid contact, you're trying to get in the way of the tacklers and find contact," he said.

For most observers, Line's big plays in the preseason came with the ball in his hands. He didn't have any rushes until getting four carries for 18 yards in the preseason finale last Thursday night, but he made a big impression in the preseason opener when he took a short screen pass and turned it into a 61-yard touchdown. He had another 1-yard touchdown reception in the third preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers.

But it won't be receiving or running the ball where Line will earn his stripes and try to secure a long-tern future in a three-game window with Felton out. It will come down to how well he can block for Peterson.

"I think any time that you've got someone behind you, if you don't block you're putting them in jeopardy. It's the NFL MVP," Line said. "Even more than that, he wants it. He comes out here every day and he works his butt off to get back to where we're going to make the playoffs, we're going to win World Championships. You'd hate to be the guy that lets him down as a veteran (or) let the O-line down. They're all working hard. You don't want to make rookie mistakes. You want to shake off the rookie dust."

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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