The bull of a tight end has seen his share of changes in the last year, but Jim Kleinsasser still maintains a positive attitude toward training camp and the team. See what he and Brad Childress had to say about his possibilities, and get more than two dozen notes from Tuesday's morning practice.
Only Steve Jordan has started more games at tight end in Vikings history than Jim Kleinsasser
, but no Viking may have been affected more by the team's installation of the West Coast Offense last year than Kleinsasser. And you won't find many other comparisons between Jordan and Kleinsasser.
"Obviously, I'm not going to be the premier pass-catching tight end out here," Kleinsasser said. "I know that my strength lies in my blocking. I concentrate on that and concentrate on improving my pass-catching."
His pass-catching opportunities took a dramatic dive last year with the team's new offense. Ever since his second season in the league, he has produced double-digit receptions, but after posting 24 catches in 2001, 37 in 2002, 46 in 2003 and 22 in 2005 – he suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2004 – Kleinsasser produced only seven catches last year.
And the Vikings proceeded to let Jermaine Wiggins
go to Jacksonville in free agency and signed Visanthe Shiancoe
to a five-year, $18.2 million contract with $7 million in guarantees as the primary pass-catching tight end.
"God bless him," he said with a smile. "I never get mad at someone getting paid. That's all good for them."
Kleinsasser had to take a pay cut in a restructured contract to stay with the team next to his native home state of North Dakota. And then there was the part of getting used to a new offense that doesn't use two tight ends nearly as often as the old offense under Mike Tice, one that made Kleinsasser more of an asset. But the 6-foot-3, 272-pounder says he hasn't seen a tangible decrease in his number of plays.
"It's just getting used to the system, and a lot of times we were falling behind and it wasn't too suited for my style when they are going three wide receivers or four wide receivers out there trying to play catch-up. That doesn't help your cause much," Kleinsasser said.
Still, he says life in training camp this year is easier for him … and nearly everyone else who is returning to the second season of Brad Childress's offense.
"It's a lot easier coming back after your first year with a new coaching staff and everything," Kleinsasser said. "I think it's a lot easier for the coaches coming back, too, knowing what kind of team they have. Every year you come to training camp, it's excitement and you've got a chance to start from scratch and build things up."
So far, Kleinsasser seems to be getting more passes thrown his way in training camp than he did last year. That seems especially true in the tight quarters of the red zone, where a bulky tight end can more easily shield a defender. But Childress still seems to prefer Kleinsasser's blocking ability near the end zone.
"A lot of times he is an overlooked guy in the pass game because he run-blocks so well. It is like an extra tackle out there on the end," Childress said. "He is doing a great job. He has got great hands and he has been very reliable for us and we are looking for him to continue to do that. …
"We know what type of inline blocker he is. We know that he can definitely change the line of scrimmage. I think he is an underrated tight end in terms of pass receiving."
Said Kleinsasser of his red-zone possibilities: "I've been down there before a few times. You just work on every aspect of it and be ready because you never know when you're going to be called on for that stuff. Shiancoe could go down and you've got to step up and do some things. I think the big thing is getting in there and getting some reps, which really helped me out this OTA, getting reps at different situations that I really hadn't been in a lot last year, that helped out big-time."
The morning practice started with cloudy skies and a moist atmosphere, but by the end the sun started to peak through and warmed the air into the 80s with a dewpoint in the 70s. The Vikings practiced in full pads.
After Anthony Herrera received the majority of first-team snaps at right guard on Monday, Artis Hicks was back taking most of the first-team snaps on Tuesday, although Herrera did see some action with the starters.
Running back Adrian Peterson was held out of practice again after suffering a hip pointer last week. He did practice against Kansas City Saturday night in River Falls, Wis.
The Vikings did have a few players return to work, including WR Billy McMullen (removed from the physically-unable-to-perform list), LB Ben Leber (who didn't participate fully), LB Jason Glenn and WR Sidney Rice, who resumed getting snaps with the first team during three-wideout sets.
S Darren Sharper also returned to full-contact drills after being held out of them on Monday. He resumed work with the first-team defense.
LB Dontarrious Thomas looked to have rolled his right ankle early in practice, but it didn't keep him off the field.
LT Marcus Johnson was throwing up on the sidelines during stretching exercises, but he practiced fully.
Kicker Ryan Longwell was 4-for-4 from midrange during a special session of kicking and then nailed a longer field goal in a simulated game situation.
Defensive tackle Kevin Williams appeared to catch the arm of Tarvaris Jackson during a pass play and knocked down the quarterback. The Vikings don't want their quarterbacks taking contact during practices and it didn't appear to be an intentional act to knock him down, but it was ironic justice since Jackson knocked down Williams and initiated that contact on Monday.
During full-team work, Jackson just missed connecting with Bobby Wade when the quarterback made a good read on the blitz and barely overthrew the wide receiver. On the next play, Jackson threw a little high for Troy Williamson, but the receiver made a quick turn of his body and caught it over his head.
CB Cedric Griffin welcomed McMullen back to the practice field by knocking down a pass intended for the wide receiver and clothes-lining him in the process. A short while later, Griffin made a play on a pass from Bollinger intended for Martin Nance. Griffin batted the ball in the air three times before it finally fell to the ground.
RT Ryan Cook got suckered into a false start on a hard count. Hard counts were a problem for the offensive line and others during Monday's practice, but they improved on that Tuesday morning.
Wade had a rare pass go through his hands on a perfect deep throw from Jackson.
DE Ray Edwards knocked a Bollinger pass down at the line of scrimmage.
Jackson and TE Visanthe Shiancoe connected on a pinpoint throw between safety Greg Blue and CB Charles Gordon.
LB Rufus Alexander intercepted a pass thrown by Bollinger that went off the hands of RB Ciatrick Fason.
During 9-on-7 work, FB Jeff Dugan and Herrera combined for a great combination block that opened a massive hole for RB Artose Pinner.
During 7-on-7 work, Gordon looked good in coverage several times, getting at least one pass defensed.
During individual drills, WR Todd Lowber dropped a long pass that was put right on him by Jackson. Lowber was audibly upset with himself, as dropped passes by the raw roster hopeful have become more common. He dropped at least one other pass in the morning session.
Shortly thereafter, Jackson hit Williamson right in stride on a deep pass down the left sideline with Cedric Griffin providing tight coverage.
Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell continued to call in plays from the headset during the live portion of Tuesday morning's practice.
DT Kevin Williams knocked down the first pass attempt during the live action, but Jackson proceeded to connect with Williamson on two of his next three attempts.
On Bollinger's first live play, Edwards pushed second-string LT Chase Johnson into the quarterback for what would have been a sack.
WR Chandler Williams and Bollinger had a miscommunication on one play when Williams cut inside for a post route and Bollinger threw the ball like he was expecting a go route. The ball fell harmlessly to the ground without being intercepted.
DE Brian Robison showed his hustle when he was pursuing Williams deep downfield on the opposite side from where Robison lines up.
CB Marcus McCauley didn't have an interception in the morning practice (as if it's almost anticipated on a daily basis at this point), but he showed he can be a physical presence as well when he got a bump on Williamson at the line of scrimmage and then stayed right with the speedy receiver in coverage.
Wade and Williamson were returning kicks during a short special teams session at the end of practice.