D'Imperio making the difficult transition

As a seventh-round draft choice, Ryan D'Imperio faced imposing odds no matter where he ended up. Now he's on a veteran roster and trying to make the position switch from linebacker to fullback. Find out how the rookie is approaching the challenge and what he says about it.

For the last couple of months, playing fullback for Ryan D'Imperio was more hypothetical than realistic. Although he was aware that the interest during his pre-draft visit with the Vikings was with the intention of moving him to fullback despite playing linebacker for his entire college career, until last weekend's minicamp he hadn't put the idea into practical application.

He hasn't played fullback since high school, but there wasn't a moment's hesitation in making the switch. He said the Vikings were very up front about their intentions with him if he was drafted and he was just as up front about his willingness to move to the offensive side of the ball.

"They made it well-known that their plan was to move me to fullback," D'Imperio said. "They talked to me about it to see if I was on board and I said, ‘Absolutely.' I knew it would be a big transition, but it's something they thought could work and it's gone pretty well so far."

D'Imperio has been pleasantly surprised by the reception he has received from his fellow rookies at last weekend's minicamp. With their NFL futures on the line in a short period of time, 55 players gathered for the weekend camp with 80 to 90 percent of them knowing that their chances of making the final roster are dim at best. That sort of cattle-call competition could create icy intentions between the players, especially those playing similar positions. If there are three guys at one position competing at a minicamp, one of them is likely to be gone before training camp starts, another will be among the first batch of cuts, and even the survivor doesn't have a guarantee to make the roster.

Despite the potential for conflict or a "me-first" attitude, D'Imperio said his experience has been just the opposite. All the players realize there are a finite number of roster spots available, but that they are working as a team during the camp – trying to impress the coaches, but having no animosity toward their fellow competitors.

"Everyone is great around here," D'Imperio said. "It's a great group of people – from the coaches to the other players I've met so far. Everyone is helping everyone. There isn't that type of ‘me against you' type of attitude. Everybody is helping each other out. That's how you make the team better."

Most of the questions D'Imperio has to answer revolve around how smoothly he can make the transition from defense to offense. To all outward appearances, it would seem like a difficult transition to make on the fly coming from college to the NFL, but D'Imperio said that everything has gone as planned, if not exceeding his own expectations.

"No matter what it would have been, whether I was coming in as a fullback or staying at linebacker, I would have been learning something new," D'Imperio said. "Right now, the biggest difference is just being on the opposite side of the ball. What you do as a fullback is pretty much the same as you do at linebacker, it's just on the other side of the ball. There's a little bit of an adjustment, but (running backs coach Eric Bienemy) is a great coach. He's been working a lot with me and I'm definitely catching on."

How long it will take D'Imperio to become a technically sound fullback isn't certain. Despite positional differences, the responsibilities of a fullback in West Coast Offense are quite diverse. He isn't just a human battering ram taking on defenders head on. They run the ball. They catch the ball. They pass protect. They do a lot of different things.

D'Imperio said the transition is a work in progress and that neither he nor the Vikings are setting a specific timetable as to when he should be fully up to speed. He said when that day arrives, everyone involved will know it.

"I haven't really put a timetable on it," D'Imperio said. "I'm just taking it one day at a time and working on it as hard as I can, as much as I can. When it comes around, it will come around. It's hard to give it a specific date or time. I'm just looking to get it to come around as quick as possible."

He also is excited about the opportunity to play with Hall of Fame QB Brett Favre and potential Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson, but he isn't letting that dream come true affect his preparation. Instead, he looks forward to meeting both of the offensive greats but can't waste time being star struck. He has a job to do and won't let anything get in the way of keeping his eyes on the prize.

"I'm just working as hard as I can no matter who is back there (at quarterback)," D'Imperio said. "I can't let anything else distract me. As long as I do my best, that's all I can do, whether it's opening a hole for Adrian Peterson, protecting Brett Favre or protecting another quarterback."

We likely won't know until August if his efforts will bear fruit. Making the transition from one position to another can be troublesome for first-round draft picks, much less seventh-rounders fighting simply to make the 53-man roster. He may have had a better chance of sticking going to a team in the building process, where young players who make an impression earn roster spots. On a veteran-laden team like the Vikings, the odds of D'Imperio making the final roster are clearly more difficult. But he wouldn't change a thing. Of all the teams that could have taken him, he said no team was a better fit in his mind than the Vikings – a belief only strengthened at last weekend's minicamp.

"This is absolutely the best fit for me," D'Imperio said. "On my visit I met with the coaches and some of the players and everything felt comfortable for me. I feel at home here. I couldn't have asked for a better place to end up."

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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