Kleinsasser likes Vikes' new offense
MANKATO, Minn. -- Dreams can come true, and Minnesota Vikings tight end Jim Kleinsasser can attest to that.
Growing up on a farm in Carrington, young Kleinsasser spent his Sunday afternoons following the purple and gold. But after the 1999 National Football League Draft, the Carrington High School standout was going to be more than just watching his favorite team -- he was going to be playing for them.
"I was lucky being close to my family," Kleinsasser said of being drafted by Minnesota. "Who knows how everything would have turned out if I would have been drafted on the West Coast or the East Coast or down south somewhere? I've been so close to my family and that's been a huge help for me."
Minnesota took the tight end out of the University of North Dakota in the second round, and now 13 years later he is longest tenured Viking on the roster.
Since joining the Vikings, Kleinsasser has played in 173 games (including postseason) and helped lead Minnesota to two NFC Championship appearances in 2001 and 2009.
There isn't much the 6-foot-3, 274-pounder hasn't seen. But now, in the twilight of his career, he's still aching for one more thing before he hangs up his cleats for good -- a Super Bowl.
Will this be the year?
"We're feeling good right now," Kleinsasser said. "We've been getting out once a day in pads getting used to the new offense."
The Vikings have made quite a few changes since the last time they made their run to the NFC Championship, and the most obvious is at the quarterback position.
Two years ago, the seemingly ageless Brett Favre helped lead Minnesota to the NFC Championship in New Orleans with an almost MVP-caliber season.
"He was a great teammate," said Kleinsasser of the future Hall-of-Famer. "He had a way about him. He took command of the offense. Guys really appreciated him and playing with him."
But being a lifelong Viking fan, it took Kleinsasser some time to get used to seeing the longtime Green Bay Packer suiting up in purple.
"The first day he came in I told him, that I've hated you my whole life, so it's going to take some time to adjust to it," Kleinsasser joked. "It turned out alright."
That magical season eventually ended in agony when Garrett Hartley kicked the New Orleans Saints into the Super Bowl with a 40-yard field goal in overtime to beat the Vikings 31-28.
Following a 2010 season almost everyone in the Viking organization would like to forget -- Favre's cell phone antics, the Metrodome roof collapsing and finishing the year a dismal 6-10 -- Minnesota will be starting anew in 2011, beginning with new quarterback Donovan McNabb.
"He's got a proven record," Kleinsasser said of McNabb, who both played in the Senior Bowl prior to being drafted. "It's that confidence when you go into the huddle and guys listen to you, and he's got that personality. When he comes into the locker room, he likes to have a good time and have a laugh with the guys and kind of lighten the mood. That's what you need from a quarterback."
The Vikings have also added some depth to the tight end position after drafting Notre Dame's Kyle Rudolph in the second round and, as a result, Kleinsasser and fellow tight end Jeff Dugan might see a little more time at the fullback position.
"Most definitely," Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said when asked if the two might spend more time at fullback. "Our tight ends do a lot of fullback-type jobs. Sometimes they line up on the line of scrimmage, sometimes we place them in the I-formation -- we'll motion them back there and motion them out."
Kleinsasser has made a name for himself as a blocker, so moving back to fullback -- a position he primarily played in the early stages of his Vikings career -- shouldn't be too much of a change.
"The way we're doing it right now is we're doing a little bit of everything. We're interchangeable," he said. "We're adjustable to the whole offense. We're learning everything."
And that's how Musgrave wanted it.
"The fullback guys and the tight end guys meet together a lot and they're required to do very similar jobs," said Musgrave, who is in his first year as Minnesota's offensive coordinator. "We can be diverse and we can also adapt if someone were to get nicked up in a game."
The Vikings opened their preseason schedule Saturday night on the road against the Tennessee Titans and fans got their first look at the new Musgrave-led offense, which Kleinsasser said will incorporate a lot of tight ends.
"We keep a lot of tight ends on the field," he said. "It will be good for us."
Minnesota's first home preseason game will be Aug. 27 against the Dallas Cowboys while the regular season will kick-off Sept. 11 on the road against the San Diego Chargers.
"This (offseason) definitely has not been normal," said Musgrave, who backed up Joe Montana and Steve Young in San Francisco from 1991-94. "It's uncharted territory, but I think (head coach) Leslie (Frazier) has done an excellent job of orchestrating (training) camp with his meetings, the way we've gone through walks-throughs.
"The players feel prepared and we feel prepared as coaches."
Griswold is a sports reporter for The Jamestown Sun, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.