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VIKINGS: With Kleinsasser and Co., Minnesota suffers no fullback fallback

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. At a time when passing schemes around the NFL are constantly evolving, the Vikings still value the functionality of the fullback in an attempt at power football under new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. At least three lea...

Jim Kleinsasser
Minnesota Vikings veteran tight end Jim Kleinsasser, a UND alum who attended high school in Carrington, N.D., listens to his coach before starting a drill at training camp in Mankato, Minn. (Photo by David Griswold, The Jamestown Sun/Forum Communications)

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn.

At a time when passing schemes around the NFL are constantly evolving, the Vikings still value the functionality of the fullback in an attempt at power football under new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.

At least three lead blockers might be directing traffic for running back Adrian Peterson on Saturday night against Seattle - first-string fullback Ryan D'Imperio and tight ends Jim Kleinsasser and Jeff Dugan, who also have fullback responsibilities.

The Vikings plan to find playing time for these players despite the presence of pass-catching tight ends Visanthe Shiancoe and Kyle Rudolph and 231-pound backup running back Toby Gerhart, who looks more like a fullback.

Former coach Brad Childress employed a similar roster strategy with now-free agent Naufahu Tahi as a fullback alongside Kleinsasser and Dugan. These Vikings will have plenty of blocking responsibilities in an offense expected to use less zone blocking than in the past.

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"There are some teams that don't even carry a fullback anymore," first-year coach Leslie Frazier said. "But there's a place for a fullback in our offense."

Several of the league's best rushing teams use some variation of a fullback, though the position is not considered a high priority when building a team.

The last fullback selected in the first round of the NFL draft was San Francisco's William Floyd in 1994. Cleveland's fourth-round pick, Owen Marecic of Stanford, was the first fullback taken in the 2011 draft.

Gone are the days of Larry Csonka or Christian Okoye serving as primary ball carriers from the fullback position. Teams such as the Colts and Cardinals have not carried a fullback in recent years.

Kleinsasser, who has played tight end and fullback during his first 12 seasons with the Vikings, said the restrictions of a 53-man roster make it difficult for some teams to carry a fullback - especially with the versatility of tight ends in today's game.

But having Peterson, arguably the game's best running back, puts the Vikings "in kind of a different situation," Kleinsasser said.

"You're not going to see most offenses with the old-school approach, but with Adrian, we're going to run the ball," Kleinsasser said. "You need a hammerhead coming through the middle."

Under former Vikings coach Mike Tice, Kleinsasser said most of his blocking assignments were out of the backfield. The Childress-preferred West Coast system changed that approach slightly, but now Kleinsasser sees fullbacks and tight ends lined up at several spots on the field, depending on the play.

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D'Imperio, a converted linebacker from Rutgers drafted in the seventh round of the 2009 draft, is working hard to keep up.

"You have to know the whole system, because you never know where you're going to line up," he said.

The Vikings have enough faith in D'Imperio to play the preseason without acquiring a veteran fullback in free agency. But a roster spot for the Sept. 11 opener at San Diego is far from certain. The Vikings also have undrafted free agent Matt Asiata in the fullback mix.

Musgrave said the Vikings' use of a fullback is based on personnel, not offensive philosophy.

"There's still a few guys that know the trade and can do a good job, and we have a couple candidates on our team to do that and fill that role," Musgrave said.

Is that what Peterson wants?

"He just wants the football, period," Musgrave said.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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