As the insurance commercial would say, “Everybody knows that.” But a review of the Vikings’ 34-6 win in stop-and-start video motion showed a couple of big contributors that mostly do their work in the shadows, one on offense and one on defense.
Rhett Ellison’s role in the Vikings offense seems fitting for the understated third-year tight end. During the 2012 draft, he was off fishing because he didn’t expect any team to draft him in the fourth round like the Vikings did.
But Ellison has become a key cog in the Vikings offense, especially the running game.
“He’s always been a really good blocker. He’s strong as an ox and he works really hard,” fullback Jerome Felton said of Ellison. “He’s a vital part of our offense and when he’s in there you can tell a difference.”
It didn’t take long for Ellison’s impact to be felt Sunday. On the second play of the game, he and fellow tight Kyle Rudolph threw the key blocks in opposite directions that sprung Patterson for his first long run, a 17-yarder. That helped the Vikings to a 3-0 lead.
Ellison was there again to start the Vikings’ second scoring drive, combining this time with Greg Jennings to throw impactful blocks to spring Patterson for a 23-yard run and get into field goal range in just one play.
“Everyone in this offense knows when certain guys get the ball, if you can finish down the field they’re going to make big plays,” Ellison said. “It’s just having that awareness that anytime those guys touch the ball they’re going to light it up. You look at everyone on those plays was making blocks downfield. Everyone just knows in those kind of situations to just finish until the touchdown.”
While he is known mostly for his blocking, Ellison also contributed in the passing game. It was only once, but it was an explosive play and Ellison doesn’t get many of those. Midway through the fourth quarter, QB Matt Cassel used an effective play-action fake to Adrian Peterson and rolled the other way, spotting Ellison open in the flat.
The 6-foot-5, 250-pound tight wasn’t caught until he was 22 yards downfield and on the 6-yard, even comically being misidentified as Peterson by play-by-play announcer Dick Stockton.
“Maybe I’m looking fast,” Ellison joked when informed of that broadcast mistake.
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Felton quickly quipped.
But Ellison, while likely never going to be a pass-catching star, just continues to do his job, mostly blocking for the more explosive weapons.
“I thought he did a good job of understanding where we’re helping in protection and obviously the catch that he made in the boot,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “I don’t get into the underrated, overrated kind of thing. I think maybe a lot of people don’t rate any of us really good, which is OK. We just go out and play football the best we can, the hardest we can and smartest we can.”
First, Tom Johnson was able to unseat Fred Evans for a roster spot. Then Johnson played in 49 percent of the Vikings’ plays on Sunday in a dominating defensive effort.
Johnson went from looking for work in the offseason to looking for quarterbacks on Sunday. He reached out and created the only forced fumble by the Vikings defense in a play that he was credited for a sack of QB Shaun Hill, too. It was the play right before Hill threw the game-changing interception to Robinson, leading to a 13-0 halftime lead and knocking Hill out of the game with a quad injury.
“I thought he did some good things. He had a nice sack-strip-fumble on the one. Played the run pretty good,” Zimmer said. “He’s kind of done what he’s done for the most part the whole preseason he’s in there and makes some plays. He’s a good kid, works real hard. He’s got some slipperiness in the pass rush, so that helps.”
Johnson had another hit on QB Austin Davis in the third quarter and stopped running back Zac Stacy for a 1-yard gain in the fourth quarter.
For a defensive lineman that started his professional career as an undrafted rookie in 2006, played in NFL Europa, the Arena League and the Canadian Football League until 2011, Johnson is a survivor of the football grind. While he isn’t a big name to most fans, his performance Sunday wasn’t a surprise to teammates that have recognized his talents and toiling throughout the offseason.
“I saw what we’ve been seeing the whole time. He’s a guy that can rush the passer. He works hard every single day. He comes out here with his lunch pail and just ready to go,” defensive end Brian Robison said. “That’s what we need. We need guys on the defensive line like Linval (Joseph) and those guys that just come to work every day and just play ball.”
The Vikings also need those who are under-appreciated outside the walls of Winter Park, and Ellison and Johnson were two of those secret stars on Sunday.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.