Almost by design, fullbacks are meant to be seen, not discussed. They do the dirty work of the offense. Where most offensive players look to avoid contact, Line seeks it out – looking to give a little payback to defenders by taking the fight to them.
But Line is quick to point out that he is more than just a human battering ram. His role in the offense can be vastly different from one game to the next, depending on the opponent, at times being asked to do more for the offense than be a glorified offensive lineman wearing a running back’s number. That has given him an edge that can be used in varied ways in the offense.
“I think my role changed week by week,” Line said. “Sometimes it was taking on 3-4 defenses with the big D-ends and I was taking on them. Other weeks, I was getting the ball more. I think having that versatility helped me out this year.”
What made Line more valuable to the Vikings offense was that his role is one that hasn’t been a favorite of star running back Adrian Peterson, although Peterson’s first NFL mentor was Tony Richardson and one of his best friends on the team in recent years was Jerome Felton – both fullbacks.
Yet, there remains the stigma that Peterson doesn’t particularly care for fullbacks leading the way into his running lanes, something Line has had to deal with.
“Yeah, I heard that,” Line said. “Being here with Jerome, I got to see what Adrian liked and I just tried to get out of his way as fast as possible, but still make a good block. I think we have a good relationship going. I think as the season went on, we got more comfortable with each other.”
Line credits much of his success to learning from Felton. When Line first made the team, it was as a core special teamer. He was something of a surprise end-of-the-roster addition who made the team in large part because Felton was serving a suspension to start the season.
Learning from a consummate pro like Felton was something that Line credits with his ability to stick around in the NFL and create a spot for him on the Vikings roster.
“I think it was Jerome’s mentality,” Line said. “He’s more of a set-the-tempo guy. When you do that as fullback, you put that on film and the next week a linebacker sees that and they play you a little differently. When you watch a good linebacker, you’ve got to gear up for them. I hope when they watch a good fullback, they have to gear up for me.”
Despite being in his third NFL season, Line had never been a cinch to make the roster. In his first two seasons, he had seen action in just four games and had no carries and one reception for eight yards. In 2014, he was active for just one game, inactive for 12 games, on the practice squad for two games and cut and off the team for one game.
His NFL future had never been assured and it instilled in him the dogged determination to make the most out of every opportunity, even if was to try to make an impression on the coaching staff in practice.
“When you’re an undrafted guy, you have to prove people wrong,” Line said. “Basically, there are other guys in front of you and you have to work your way up and prove yourself every day. It was definitely harder and it was incremental. The incremental part was just earning their trust. Every time I got a play, I tried to make the most of it. I still do that, whether it’s in practice or on game day. It doesn’t matter.”
One of those people that took notice was offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Well-versed in the value of fullbacks, Turner liked what he saw in Line and was willing to make him more than simply a blocker in front of Peterson.
Line played in all 16 games, starting five of them, in 2015. He was a focal point of the offense, but made an impact when he got his hands on the ball, rushing for two touchdowns and catching six passes for 95 yards and another TD.
Line has been part of an offense that uses every player with a skill position number in some capacity and feels that the component parts are going to make the Vikings offense something to be reckoned with many players that contribute to the offense, whether a front-line star like Peterson or a part-time mismatch play like Line.
“I really like this offense and what we’re capable of,” Line said. “I think there are a lot of areas where guys can step up and be called upon. You saw a lot of that this year. There would be scoring drives where six or seven different guys touched the ball. That’s the kind of thing I like about the offense. It has the ability to be explosive. We have the ability to be tough in the cold and just run the ball. There are a lot of things to like.”
Like most of his teammates, Line was having a hard time processing how the 2015 season ended. He fully expected to be flying out to Arizona this weekend with hopes of getting one step closer to his dream of playing in a Super Bowl.
While the season closed on a down note, Line said the future looks bright for the Vikings and he is excited about the prospects, with hopes of being an unsung but key piece of that puzzle.
“There was a lot of good in this season,” Line said. “(The Seattle game) was tough because we were the better team. I don’t think anybody would deny that. That’s the crazy part about football. I think it left the guys with a bitter taste in their mouth that we’re going to carry over into next year. We weren’t ready for the season to end and I think that’s going to have everyone come back next year working harder with something to prove. I think the best for us is yet to come and I’m excited about working hard to be a part of it.”