Minnesota Vikings: John Carlson Injury Opens Door for Others to Step Up

Drew Tull@@drewtullContributor IIAugust 1, 2012

January 16, 2011 Divisional Playoffs - Seattle Seahawks v Chicago Bears
January 16, 2011 Divisional Playoffs - Seattle Seahawks v Chicago BearsJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Minnesota Vikings' training camp has been abuzz for many different reasons the last few days.

Star running back Adrian Peterson had a scare from an allergic reaction that landed him in the hospital, Percy Harvin left on a cart only to return with what was a jammed finger. Owner Zygi Wilf told reporters that he expects the team to contend for the NFC North title.

The most significant news may have come when tight end John Carlson suffered a sprained MCL. He will likely miss the rest of the month.   

The initial diagnosis of Carlson's injury was a sprained medial collateral ligament and was confirmed later on Tuesday as only a Grade 2 sprained MCL. The ligament isn't torn.

A two-week absence from training camp would cut into his action in the preseason, which begins on Aug. 10 at San Francisco. As long as he suffers no setbacks, he should be back in plenty of time for the September ninth home opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars.  

Carlson, 28, signed a five-year, $25 million contract with the Vikings in March and is expected to play a major role in Bill Musgrave's multiple tight end offense alongside Kyle Rudolph. He sat out last season in Seattle with a shoulder injury and has 137 receptions for 1519 yards and 13 touchdowns.

The other tight ends on the Vikings' roster are Mickey Shuler, Allen Reisner and Rhett Ellison, the rookie fourth-round draft pick from USC.  

Many Vikings fans may still be disappointed that the team did not resign Visanthe Shiancoe, who recently signed a one-year contract with the Patriots, but instead opted for an injury-risk in Carlson.

The fact remains that this injury is not related to the concussions that kept Carlson out in 2011. The veteran should be ready for opening day.

There is a silver lining in all of this, which is not to sign a veteran free agent like Jeremy Shockey at this point, but it gives coaches an extended look at the young depth behind Rudolph and Carlson.

The Vikings will certainly keep Rudolph and Carlson on the 53-man roster and may keep one or two more players to work as a lead blocker, blocking tight end and/or special teams contributor to replace retired jack-of-all-trades Jim Kleinsasser.

Mickey Shuler and Allen Reisner have a combined professional experience of three receptions for 49 yards in 12 regular season games. While that is hardly reason to be optimistic, the Vikings need options to block for quarterback Christian Ponder as well as lead block for Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart. 

Shuler, 25, was a 2010 seventh-round draft pick of the Vikings and has bounced around the league between the Vikings, Bengals and Dolphins the past few seasons.  

Shuler does have a great pedigree. His father is Mickey Shuler Sr., who played 14 NFL seasons with the Jets and Eagles.  In his college career at Penn State he didn't post eye-popping numbers while he shared time with the Packers' Andrew Quarless.

Shuler is still an above average blocker and special teams player.

Reisner, 23, was an undrafted free agent in 2011 out of Iowa that saw action in six games when Rudolph and Shiancoe were injured.

Like Shuler, Reisner has below-average athleticism and does not possess the upside to be an elite receiving tight end. But he has above average blocking skills. Reisner only had one full year of starting experience and that came in 2010 as a senior.

As a senior he had 42 receptions for 460 yards and two touchdowns.

Reisner may have the edge entering training camp over Shuler but they both are likely behind rookie Rhett Ellison due to Ellison's versatility.

Ellison, 23,  was used all over the field at USC.  He has lined up at tight end, fullback and even was split out in the slot.  

He is also the son of Riki Ellison, a former 49ers linebacker and served as USC team captain as a senior. Along with playing many positions on offense Ellison was a standout on special teams in college where he was named to the PAC 12 first team for special teams as a senior.  

Ellison may already be more polished than both Reisner and Shuler with much better skills as a patch-catching threat after raking up 53 receptions for 471 yards and six touchdowns in 31 games at USC.

These three players will get increased repetitions in training camp with Carlson' absence, with Ellison possibly seeing more time in two-tight end packages than he necessarily would have if Carlson were healthy.

While I don't see any player making Carlson expendable, I am excited to see what they can all do with the added practice time as well as preseason game experience.  I still believe the Vikings will enter the season with Rudolph, Carlson, Ellison and Reisner on the 53-man roster with Shuler a very strong practice squad candidate.