C.J. Ham spent his first year in the NFL with eyes and ears wide open, trying to absorb as much information and insight as possible.
Among the Division-II longshots to find work in the NFL, Ham played his college ball at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D., before moving from one Vikings team to another.
A year later, he sees an opportunity for a bigger role.
“I know that the team is going to be looking at running backs. That’s the nature of the game. You look at the same positions every single year, always trying to create depth,” Ham said before free agency started but aware that Adrian Peterson and Matt Asiata were both free agents. “I know I’m in a good spot right now and I’m happy to go out there next year and actually compete for a really meaningful spot on the team. I’m just excited for the opportunity.”
Peterson and Asiata remain free agents looking for work, but Ham was right about the Vikings looking at running backs. They signed free agent Latavius Murray, but with him having ankle surgery on Wednesday that is likely to keep him out until training camp, it will give Ham more offseason opportunities to immerse himself in the offense.
“I’m very excited for training camp and OTAs and all that stuff, to get back out there. I know the system now. I won’t be that nervous rookie anymore,” he said. “I have some confidence behind me. I’m just excited to see where the ball rolls.”
A Duluth, Minn. native, Ham led the Augustana Vikings and the Northern Sun Conference with a career-high 1,097 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior, matching the school record in rushing touchdowns and becoming the fourth Augustana player to top 1,000 yards.
With the Minnesota Vikings, he entered a crowded backfield last year that included Peterson, Asiata, Jerick McKinnon, fullback Zach Line, as well as young running backs Brandon Ross and Jhurell Pressley.
Pressley and Ross were both signed after the draft on May 6, and Ham signed four days later. On May 23, the Vikings released Ross, the start of Ham’s ascension to earn a spot on the practice squad. When it came time to make a decision on the final roster cuts, Pressley and Ham were waived and Ham was the one re-signed to the practice squad.
He spent a lot of time in 2016 watching and learning from the veterans.
“Just to be patient, be very patient, trust your eyes,” he said of his top takeaway from his rookie season. “That’s one thing in college, you kind of knew where the reads were going to be. You kind of knew where the holes were going to be. In the NFL, right away in training camp I learned that’s not how it is. You’ve got a play that’s supposed to go to the right and it could go to the left just with the snap of a finger. I’m just really being patient in just trusting what you see.
“… As you keep playing, the game gets slower for you and you’re able to see things a little better. It just comes with repetition.”
A week after Peterson tried to make his comeback from knee and groin injuries on Dec. 19 and lasted only game, Ham was called up to the 53-man roster. He didn’t play in either of the last two games, but he was at least on the 53-man roster and appreciated all that he learned from Peterson, even if there were only three games in which Peterson played during Ham’s time with the team.
“It was awesome being around Adrian Peterson. I actually wore number 28 in college because of him,” Ham said. “It was just awesome to be around him and see how he carries himself on and off the field. Obviously, on the field he’s a freak athlete. As hard as I tried, I would not be able to do what Adrian Peterson does, no matter how hard I trained. He’s just that type of player. Off the field, he’s even a greater guy than I expected. With a guy of that status, you’d think he’d be a little arrogant, but he is not that at all. He’s a great guy to be around. He always gave me tips and even asked for my feedback at times.”