Kleinsasser quietly makes a name for himself
Vikings tight end does more than block
By Andres Ybarra
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Jim Kleinsasser has a very defined role on the Minnesota Vikings: He does whatever the coaches say.
It suits him well, because he can pretty much do it all.
"There's not too many tight ends in the league that can be the lead blocker one play, the next play be in on an isolation play, and the next play flex out and run a corner route," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said Thursday.
Most people won't 'ear Kleinsasser's name mentioned unless a pass is thrown his way. But on almost every play, he's there -- doing something.
"He's one of those guys that does a lot of dirty work," Linehan said.
Translation: He won't make very many highlight reels this season, especially since he plays on an offense with names like Randy Moss and Daunte Culpepper. But despite the lack of notoriety, Kleinsasser is quietly making a name for himself as one of the better tight ends in the NFL.
"Catching the ball, blocking, coming out of the backfield, whatever," center Matt Birk said. "Whatever they ask him to do, he does it."
Kleinsasser's versatility helped him emerge as a starter in the Vikings' two tight end formation last season. After spending most of his first three seasons in Minnesota as a fullback, head coach Mike Tice shifted Kleinsasser back to his natural position at tight end, where he caught a career-high 37 passes for 393 yards and one touchdown in 2002.
He averaged 10.6 yards a catch and his blocking abilities helped the Vikings lead the league in rushing. Making sure Kleinsasser remained a Viking this year was one of Tice's top concerns.
When Byron Chamberlain was suspended for Minnesota's first four games for using a banned substance, Kleinsasser's value grew even more.
"It's just a real luxury to have someone who can do all those things," Linehan said.
In the Vikings' first two games, Kleinsasser is tied for second on the team with four catches for 29 yards. He leads all receivers with two TDs. His increased production over the years makes his teammates happy.
"He probably doesn't get the recognition he deserves," Birk said.
During Sunday's game-sealing drive against Chicago, Culpepper dropped back on third-and-11 from the Bears 11-yard line and looked for his first option, Moss, who was covered.
The second option was running back John Avery in the flat.
So who was open? Kleinsasser, of course.
"He was actually the third option on that one," Culpepper said. "They did a good job of covering it, and I don't think they expected him to get the ball on that one. I don't think anybody in the stadium did."
But he did. Kleinsasser caught his second TD in a nationally televised game and the Vikings walked off the field with a victory.
After the game, Kleinsasser was asked if he was surprised that no one was covering him.
"Like anybody would," he said. "They've got to take care of Randy."
Don't look now, but for once, Kleinsasser actually has more touchdowns than Moss.
"Because he's such a good blocker and we have so many weapons in the passing game, he doesn't get the numbers," Birk said.
"But it's good to see him get a chance to make some plays. It seems like every time he gets a chance to make a play, he does."
Andres Ybarra can be reached at aybarra(at)ap.org.