Clock is ticking on Vikings' tight end Carlson

Minnesota Vikings tight end John Carlson runs after catching a pass during a training camp practice in Mankato.

MANKATO — John Carlson hears the clock ticking on his career, a formerly productive tight end defined recently by misfortune and injuries.

It has been three long years since Carlson was healthy and relevant during an NFL season. He is back with the Vikings after an unfulfilled 2012 season, grateful for another chance — perhaps his last — to secure a permanent role.

"Every football player knows if you don't perform or are continually injured, ultimately you're not going to be playing anymore," Carlson said. "You have to continually remind yourself in the grind you don't know how long it's going to last. Training camp's a grind, but I love the fact that I can be out here, and I'm thankful for the opportunity."

It remains uncertain how much playing time Carlson will get this season.

In training camp, he has been active, catching Matt Cassel's passes in the middle of the field, where Carlson thrived early in his career with the Seattle Seahawks. He also has lined up at the H-back position, a role Rhett Ellison and Jerome Felton mastered as lead blocker for Adrian Peterson last season.


The Vikings still are trying to determine what they have in Carlson, who was projected to anchor versatile tight-end sets with Kyle Rudolph.

But the Litchfield, Minn., native suffered a knee injury early in camp last year, sustained his fourth concussion in October and was relegated to the background as Rudolph emerged as a dominant tight end and Pro Bowl player in just his second year.

"Certain injuries you can mitigate from training, certain things happen that you have no control over, like those random acts last year," Carlson said.

Carlson never could assimilate with quarterback Christian Ponder or offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. Now he is working to make up for lost time, and the Vikings are affording him opportunities to re-establish himself.

"No question, it set John back a year ago," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "But so far, he hasn't missed anything. He's had good practices, and we'll get him now to hopefully get to the ballgame on (tonight) and get a chance to play with our starting unit some.

"We know he's a good player, we know he's capable of making plays. We're going to try to give him as many opportunities as we can this preseason and try to get him involved. A lot of it will be based on what we get accomplished here at training camp and what we get accomplished during the preseason."

Carlson started 38 of 47 games, caught 13 touchdown passes and averaged 46 receptions his first three seasons in Seattle before a preseason knee injury landed him on injured reserve for 2011.

Between injuries with Minnesota last season, Carlson was targeted with only 16 passes and just five longer than 10 yards. He restructured the five-year, $25 million contract he initially signed with the Vikings, absorbing a pay cut in 2013.


The team is only on the hook for the final $3 million of his signing bonus if it releases him after this season. He is 29 years old. The writing is on the wall.

"We all know what happened last year," Carlson said. "It didn't happen. But I feel really good right now. Every year you get older, but I had a great offseason as far as training goes.

"I think we've got a lot of weapons. It's exciting because we're asked to do so many different things — split out wide, in the backfield, blocking for the MVP of the league. We have to be versatile. It's challenging. But it's one of the reasons it's such a cool offense."

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