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Save room for Ham: There’s a place on Vikings’ offensive plate for Duluth fullback

EAGAN, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings had just completed their first fully padded practice of training camp on Monday as the team began walking off the field.

t073018 -- 080118.S.DNT.HAMc1 -- Duluth native C.J. Ham makes a catch during a drill at the Minnesota Vikings training camp at the Twin Cities Orthopedic Performance Center in Eagan, Minn. on July 30.Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com
Duluth native C.J. Ham makes a catch during a drill at the Minnesota Vikings training camp Monday at the Twin Cities Orthopedic Performance Center in Eagan, Minn. Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com

EAGAN, Minn. - The Minnesota Vikings had just completed their first fully padded practice of training camp on Monday as the team began walking off the field.

It was a long, hot day, but one Vikings player - one - stayed on the field to take extra reps, blasting a blocking sled under the watchful eye of runnings backs coach Kennedy Polamalu.

That player was none other than Duluth native C.J. Ham.

Polamalu was asked if he was the one who wanted Ham to work on some things.

"No, no, that's on him," Polamalu said. "He wants the extra work."

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If Duluth football fans were worried about their favorite son getting lost in the Vikings' new scheme, with Minnesota bringing in a new offensive coordinator in John DeFilippo, rest assured. There appears to be a place for Ham on the Vikings' plate.

"It's nice when you have a fullback in there," DeFilippo said after Tuesday's morning walk through. "It allows your play-action game to really take off. It obviously allows you to run the football with two backs and some old-school isolation plays. And you can run power with a fullback, which we love."

Some fans of Ham may have been concerned, with DeFilippo coming to the Vikings from Philadelphia, where he was the Eagles' quarterbacks coach. The Eagles played lots of running backs last year, but they didn't play any fullbacks. That fact wasn't lost on Ham, but he insisted don't read too much into it.

"That wasn't his offense," Ham said. "He wasn't offensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles, so that wasn't his scheme. He obviously had a big part in their success, but in his past, when he was the offensive coordinator in Cleveland, he used a fullback. It's part of his offense, it's part of his identity, and I'm just glad I'm still here and have an opportunity to compete."

While there is a learning curve whenever a new system is installed, including new terminology, Ham said it's been incredibly smooth under DeFilippo. With star receivers in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen - who like Ham is a Minnesota native - running back Dalvin Cook back from injury and a big-time red-zone target in tight end Kyle Rudolph, the Vikings' offense could be potent if the line holds up under free-agent quarterback Kirk Cousins, and with DeFilippo calling the shots.

"He's a great coach. Obviously his schemes are phenomenal," Ham said. "He's using a lot of people in a lot of ways, and he brings tremendous energy to every practice."

Minnesota loves versatility, and few are as versatile as the 5-foot-11, 235-pound Ham. That's what first caught the Vikings' attention when Ham was coming out of college at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, S.D. Ham's all-around athleticism is a product of his background, honed by playing multiple sports and positions at Duluth Denfeld. It's something he prides himself on.

"I'm open to anything," Ham said.

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Polamalu, the uncle of former NFL safety Troy Polamalu, calls Ham the Vikings' Swiss Army knife.

"The kid can play every position," Kennedy Polamalu said. "He's smart, he's athletic, he's tough, and he's accountable. He's so reliable that we can trust him at a number of positions. He's just the kind of guy we love to coach."

Polamalu estimated Ham would factor into 10 to 20 percent of the Vikings' offensive playbook, depending on the opposing defense. Just like the Vikings love to move their tight ends around, the same goes for Ham. It's all about finding mismatches, big on small in the running game, fast on slow in the passing game, putting players in positions to make plays, as coaches love to say.

"I think whenever you have a fullback who is an athletic guy, and not just the old-school, 'I've got a big old neck roll on' type of fullback, that is just a straight-ahead guy, I think that provides you a lot of position flexibility," DeFilippo said. "The thing with C.J. which I love is that he still athletic enough to be able to move around and catch the football. You are going to see him moving around in a bunch of different spots in the fall if he keeps doing what he's doing."

In addition, Ham is one of the Vikings' core special teamers. NFL teams will keep a player around like that, who is versatile, coachable, hard working and professional.

"I'm telling you. This kid is going to be successful in life," Polamalu said. "He's a man of faith, he's a great husband, a really great father and a really great teammate. He's a man of example and integrity. The kid's going to play for a long time."

According to overthecap.com, Ham, who turned 25 on July 22, is set to make $555,000 going into his third season. He and his wife, Stephanie, recently bought a house in Rosemount, Minn., and are expecting their second daughter in December.

If Monday's practice is any indication, C.J. Ham isn't resting on his laurels.

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"I still have the same mindset. I'm just going to come out here and do my job," he said. "I played in all 18 games last year. I'm very confident in what I can do, but you really can't get comfortable. You have to come out here and work and grind every single day."

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