The dream of every college player is to get to the NFL. Once that goal is accomplished, there is a secondary dream – staying there.
Defensive tackle Kenrick Ellis had no idea what his NFL future was going to hold until Tuesday. A third-round pick of the New York Jets in 2011, he spent four years with them before signing a free agent deal with the Giants last March.
He was cut Sept. 5 when the Giants signed defensive tackle Louis Nix and then re-signed Sept. 22. He was cut again Oct. 3 and wasn’t sure where his career was heading until he got the call this week from the Vikings.
“I was on the couch,” Ellis said. “I didn’t have a job for 17 days. I’m just happy to be here.”
The reality of the world of the NFL is that jobs are a precious commodity and once you’re out of the league there is no guarantee that you’re coming back.
Asked if he was concerned as the days started to mount without any offers to coming in, Ellis admitted he had more than his share of concerns that his career might be over before he wanted it to be.
“Of course, man,” Ellis said. “This is a business is a tough business, a young business. I’m just happy to be here, blessed and thankful.”
Things moved quickly with the Vikings. When it was determined that Shamar Stephen was going to be placed on injured reserve, a replacement was going to be needed.
Once Ellis got the call, things were put in motion and he’s hoping for a career resurrection with the Vikings in any capacity in which they see him as a fit.
“I came in for a workout yesterday,” Ellis said. “I’m just happy to be on the Vikings. Whatever they want me to do, whatever they need me to do, whatever opportunity, I’m looking forward to taking it. I just want to fit in.”
Ellis isn’t expecting to take on a big role initially. He understands that there is talent and depth among the starters and the backups and hopes to carve out a role similar to the one that Stephen had carved out in his two seasons with the Vikings.
“It’s already a good group,” Ellis said. “I just hope I can add to it and add depth to the group, give some of those guys a break sometimes and compete to help us win.”
The biggest learning curve that Ellis needs to overcome is going through the process of learning his third defensive scheme in less than 12 months. The job description of a defensive tackle doesn’t change all that much from one team to another, but the terminology is unique in each system and learning what the buzz words mean is the biggest hurdle at this point.
Akin to learning a foreign language, Ellis is learning the system as fast as he can. It was completely new to him as of Tuesday and he is spending a lot of extra time at Winter Park getting acclimated to his new surroundings and burying his nose in the playbook.
“I’m getting really familiar with it,” Ellis said. “I’ve got a lot of studying to do. I get a lot of help from the coaches, so I’ll be fine. I was in early this morning and will probably stay a little bit late. Once I get used to the terms – that’s the big difference, the terms – I’ll be fine.”
For a player who feared his career might be over, Ellis views the Vikings as a chance to live up to the promise that he showed coming out of college and what kept him in the league for four-plus seasons.
His role with the Vikings will be defined over the next few weeks, but one thing appears certain – Ellis is ready to show the Vikings coaching staff that he has what it takes to be a part of the defensive line rotation and can make the plays needed to earn playing time.