When the list of important players that are key to the Minnesota Vikings’ success are mentioned, you get the usual suspects – Adrian Peterson, Everson Griffen, Harrison Smith, Teddy Bridgewater, Anthony Barr, Xavier Rhodes and a dozen who play key roles on both sides of the ball.
Did we forget to mention Rhett Ellison?
Ellison isn’t a headline grabber, but he is a player who has earned the utmost respect from teammates and coaches alike. He doesn’t show up on the stat sheet very often. In 46 career games, he has caught just 32 passes for 337 yards and two touchdowns. His role in the offense is primarily to be a blocker – a job he does extremely well. Even the biggest of Vikings superstars holds Ellison in very highest of esteem and, if he was in charge of the Vikings, Ellison would always be a member of the squad.
“Ellison is a guy that I look at, that, if I had to pick a team, he’d be one of the first players I’d pick because I know what I’m going to get out of him,” Peterson said.
Ellison was humbled by the effusive praise that Peterson threw out. For a player whose job is almost completely unheralded and his job duties often include the dirtiest of dirty work, to get an “atta-boy” from A.P. is about as lofty of praise any worker drone could receive.
“That’s obviously the highest compliment you can get from a teammate,” Ellison said. “The game is all about respect and, if he respects me that much, that’s the best thing I can get.”
Another fan of his work is offensive coordinator Norv Turner. In his second year with the Vikings, Turner has come to appreciate Ellison’s contribution to the offense because, like a Swiss Army knife, he’s asked to do a lot of things – play tight end, fullback and H-back. He does all of those jobs extremely well and has earned Turner’s respect and appreciation.
“Rhett’s doing the same things he was doing for us a year ago,” Turner said. “He’s smart, he plays multiple positions, he’s a good run blocker, he’s an excellent pass protector. When he gets a chance to have the ball in his hands, he’s a good runner after the catch. We rely on him to do a great number of things.”
Ellison is what would commonly be referred to as “a grunt.” He rarely gets noticed because his job to keep the player with the ball clean and the general rule of thumb in the NFL is that the camera follows the action and the action follows the player with the ball. That is rarely Ellison.
He is in the mold of one of the greats at his particular job skill, former Viking Jim Kleinsasser. Peterson played with both and sees a lot of similarities between them.
“He has a warrior mentality,” Peterson said. “He reminds me of Jimmy Kleinsasser. He’s a smaller guy, but a guy that is dependable. That’s on block and, even if he loses on a block, it wasn’t because of effort.”
Ellison followed in Kleinsasser’s footsteps and the respect he garnered in the locker room was something that cast a long shadow. Ellison said he hoped to emulate what Kleinsasser did for the Vikings and, at best, hoped to be a pale comparison. To hear Peterson put them on a par brought a big smile to his face that only guys in the trenches can appreciate.
“I wish I was a smaller Kleinsasser,” Ellison said. “That guy was a monster. Just to be compared with him is a great compliment because I have a world of respect for what Jim Kleinsasser accomplished in this league in the role he played.”
Turner explained the complicated role that Ellison embodies in the Vikings offense in an interview Wednesday with Vikings play-by-play man Paul Allen.
It’s a complicated, multi-faceted job description that goes largely unnoticed unless you’re looking for it. He may not be recognized by fans at the mall, the grocery store or the theater, but at Winter Park he’s an important piece the offensive puzzle.
“Rhett is one of those unsung heroes,” Turner said. “We play him at three different positions. He obviously does a lot of motion movement. We change plays while he’s in the middle of his motion and he has to turn back and go the other way and then realize who he’s got on the move. Probably the biggest thing he does for us is that he’s an excellent pass protector and complements our offensive line, because the teams we’re playing, you need that extra body in there in terms of helping with the protection. In this Denver game, we’re going to need that more than ever. This is a group that can really get after the quarterback.”
Ellison has been seen as critical in helping in the maturation and confidence of Teddy Bridgewater as a passer and, over the last two games, the resurgence of Adrian Peterson as one of the game’s top running backs. As he views his role, it’s being a teammate of a group that is playing angry, looking to be tougher and meaner than the defenses trying to stop them.
He doesn’t care about getting the adulation of the fans or the attention from the media. He’s doing his job and, like other unsung grinders who open holes for Peterson and clog them up for Bridgewater, his mindset is to play with a chip on his shoulder – a sentiment he shares with the offensive linemen who do a similar job as he does.
“I think the offense is taking it personally,” Ellison said. “Whoever is running the ball we want to be able to run it and be a physical team. We’ve got another big challenge this week because those guys (the Broncos) are very tough and do a great job of shutting down the run game to set up coming after the quarterback. It’s going to be a big challenge, but we want to be just as physical as they are and show them that we’re up to any challenge that gets put in front of us.”