With Kyle Rudolph sidelined until sometime in December with a fractured foot, it appears all John Carlson needed was an opportunity.
While Rudolph shed his crutches last weekend, Carlson began the process of perhaps shedding the perception as a free-agent bust. Carlson was a decisive target of the Vikings in free agency in 2012 and they quickly signed him to a five-year, $25 million contract shortly after the opening bell to the free-agent market.
But after only eight catches for 43 yards in 14 games played in 2012, it took a restructured contract to keep Carlson on board. His salary cap number of $4 million for 2013 was whittled down to $2.55 million this year in order to stay part of the roster.
With Rudolph out last Thursday against the Washington Redskins, Carlson finally showed his capabilities. He caught all seven of the passes thrown his way for 98 yards, including a 28-yard touchdown.
"I know he was frustrated last year with the injuries and how the whole year went, so we've seen the work that he's put in," Rudolph said of Carlson. "I know it was kind of a weight lifted off his shoulders to go out there and play well and have the success that he did."
Prior to Thursday night, Carlson had just 11 catches for 61 yards midway through the season.
That all changed against the Redskins with Rudolph out. Carlson caught his first touchdown as a Viking and the 14th of his career. His 98 yards were his single-game best since joining the Vikings and second-best in his career, coming up just 7 yards short of a career-high 105 against Dallas in 2008. And his seven receptions were just one shy of his career high vs. New England in 2008.
"John, especially for a guy from Minnesota, stepped up and took advantage of an opportunity," QB Christian Ponder said. "The way that he got in for that score was great. He took advantage of an opportunity and played an exceptional game. For a guy who has battled injury with Seattle, then came here and was injured last year – never got into a groove – finally he had a great game. That's what we expected out of him. He's been an athletic guy. He's a smart player, and I'm glad he had a great game."
Rudolph acknowledged that his injury opened up an opportunity for Carlson, another Notre Dame product. It moved Carlson into the role of pass-catching tight end.
There are so many guys in this offense that can succeed in the pass game. We have so many weapons. John stepped in and played what we call the Y tight end, the tight end that I normally play," Rudolph said. "He had an amazing game. I think everybody in the tight end room is extremely happy for him."
So was his head coach.
"It's great to see John step up and play the way he played. We needed it," Leslie Frazier said. "Kyle is such a big part of our offense and you lose a lot when you don't have him on the field, not only as a receiver but a blocker as well. John filled those roles and to be the lead guy and to make the plays that he made, it will increase our confidence in him in some of the things that we're doing when Kyle does come back. I feel good for John, feel good for our team."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Carlson succeeds in Rudolph's role
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