Ellison is not a flashy player on the field. He is not the one who is going to go up and make the big catch and outrun an entire defense on the way to the end zone. Even in the locker room, he is rarely seen joking around with teammates or talking to reporters. He is a quite, reserved guy, but at the same time he is probably one of the more respected players on the Vikings offense.
He is the player that always goes in and does the dirty work that allows everyone else to be successful. He rarely receives credit for the work he does in the trenches and the middle of the field, but without him the offense is likely going to look a little different.
“Rhett is a guy who can really do an awful lot of things. He helps in protection and helps with blocking in the running game. He has done a good job, really, with everything. He is a smart guy. We’re going to miss him. Rhett is a good football player and probably even a better person,” head coach Mike Zimmer said on Monday, right before saying his tight end will need surgery and will likely be out for six months.
Rookie tight end MyCole Pruitt is likely going to be the one who steps in for the injured Ellison, and while these two players are different, they possess some similarities. Both have the ability to contribute as blockers and pass catchers, but Ellison is a more polished blocker where Pruitt is a better receiver.
Since offseason workouts Zimmer has said that Pruitt needed to improve his blocking. The tight end comes in at 6-foot-2, 258 pounds, so he has a great lower center of gravity, which works to his advantage. There were just some technique things he needed to clean up.
Pruitt feels that he has cleaned up on those techniques, in part because of the help he received from Ellison throughout the season.
“Yeah, definitely,” Pruitt said when asked if Ellison ever helped him out over the course of the season. “Just here and there giving me pointers and tips. Any time I ask or anytime he sees something he’ll point it out to me and let me know what I can do better. So he’s been a big help this whole season.”
The young tight end says that he is “ready for the challenge” of filling in for Ellison and has been since he got injured. When he saw Ellison go down and grab his knee he knew that he was going to have to step up and help out his team in a big way.
The Vikings have been dealing with injures the entire season and have always been saying it’s the “next man up.” This situation is no different and Pruitt knows it.
“Probably right when he went down I saw how he was holding his knee and I felt really bad for the guy because he’s a great guy and he would give anything to be out there,” he said. “But I just want to be able to play and do well and fill the role.”
Another player that is likely going to have to step up to help fill the shoes of Ellison is fullback Zach Line. The Vikings have embraced three-tight end sets throughout the season where they would use Ellison, Pruitt and Kyle Rudolph on the field with Adrian Peterson in the backfield and one receiver split out wide.
With only two tight ends remaining on the 53-man roster and a cold game approaching where the Vikings are likely going to want to run the ball, Line will likely be used as another option for them to get an extra blocker on the field.
“(Defenders) will start backing off more and more if you’re running the ball well on them,” Line said of playing in the cold weather. “So that’s what we got to do. We have to establish the run and you’ll see them back up a little bit.”
Like Ellison, Line is a player on the team who does a lot of the dirty work and does not get much credit. It is not always easy being the lead blocker for a running back like Peterson because if the fullback is not fast enough or in the wrong spot he won’t hesitate to run a teammate over, along with the defenders.
But Line has accepted his role and is looking forward to Sunday’s game because he knows cold-weather games are a time for fullbacks to shine.
“It seems like any time there’s any conditions other than sunny it’s a good game for a fullback,” he joked.
It will be interesting to see how the Vikings are able to move players around to make up for Ellison’s absence, but it will likely come down to Pruitt and Line getting a bulk of the snaps. Ellison is a tough player to replace, and the challenge will not be made any easier this weekend when they go up against the physical defense of the Seahawks.