Kleinsasser To Key Running Game

The return to health of Michael Bennett, Matt Birk and Mike Rosenthal might all be secondary in the success of the running game. Tight end Jim Kleinsasser's comeback from injury could be the biggest factor, according to Vikings coaches.

When discussing the potential success or failure of the running game this season, some Vikings coaches are as focused on the return of tight end Jim Kleinsasser from knee surgery as they are on who wins the battle for the featured back position.

"I never worry about who (running backs coach Dean Dalton) has in at running back because they all bring certain talents," said Steve Loney, offensive coordinator and line coach. "Having Jimmy back is going to be tremendous for us in the running game. He's a real positive there."

Kleinsasser tore an ACL in his right knee during last year's season-opening victory over the Dallas Cowboys. The season-ending injury left the Vikings' running game weak at the point of attack, often forcing them to abandon the running game altogether.

Without the 6-3, 272-pound Kleinsasser leading the way on the perimeter or from the backfield in his H-back position, the Vikings' leading rusher, Onterrio Smith, gained only 544 yards. The stress on the running game was only compounded by lingering injuries to running back Michael Bennett and center Matt Birk.

Bennett is healthy again and is the frontrunner in the race for the No. 1 running back job. Birk, however, is coming off hip surgery and three hernia operations since the start of last season. He is expected to miss most if not all of training camp and the preseason.

Kleinsasser on the other hand appears set for the start of training camp. His rehab went well and his increased confidence in the knee was evident during the team's mini-camp and developmental camps.

"I still have to wait until training camp to see how the knee going to react when I get banged around," Kleinsasser said. "That will be the true test."

But so far, so good, coach Mike Tice said.

"Everybody is just tickled pink that we're able to have an outside running game again," Tice said. "Last year, we had to manufacture some things because when you lose Jimmy, you lose that outside running threat. We're an outside run team. That was a part of our offense that was really missing without Jimmy."


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