MANKATO — Tight end John Carlson cut sharply at the goal line, grabbing the football away from safety Harrison Smith. A couple plays later, Carlson hauled in an arcing pass, getting both feet down before linebacker Audie Cole pushed him out of the end zone.
It's a small sample of what Carlson accomplished during a recent practice. It's what he had planned for last season, when he was a high-priced free agent returning to Minnesota to continue his career.
But injuries kept Carlson, who was a three-sport standout in Litchfield, from having much of an impact with the Minnesota Vikings.
"It was a disappointing start, but that was last year," Carlson said. "I'm focused on what I can do now and try to improve every day."
Carlson is healthy so far, and if the first 10 days of camp are any indication, the Vikings' offense puts a lot of emphasis on tight ends Kyle Rudolph, Rhett Ellison and Carlson.
"In this offense, the tight ends are asked to do a lot," Carlson said. "It's a good group, very versatile."
In three seasons with Seattle, he made 141 catches with 15 touchdowns before missing the 2011 season with a shoulder injury. He signed a five-year, $25 million contract with the Vikings and was eager to perform in front of many friends and family members.
But a couple days into training camp, he suffered a sprained knee, which sidelined him for the rest of the preseason, limiting his ability to build chemistry with quarterback Christian Ponder and other teammates and gain the trust of coaches. Carlson played in 14 games, and made only eight receptions as he was bothered by a late-season concussion.
"When you’re a new guy and you get injured as early as he did and you’re trying to develop the timing in between the quarterback and also time to develop a rapport, your teammates, offensive coordinator, no question it set John back a year ago," Frazier said.