EAGAN, Minn. — Vikings fullback C.J. Ham is adapting and thriving in a slightly different role this season as part of a wrinkle under Year 2 with Head Coach Kevin O'Connell.
Purple Insider's Matthew Coller wrote about how Ham is contributing to the Vikings offense outside of his traditional run-blocking role.
This year there are only five fullbacks [with more than] 100 run blocking snaps through 13 weeks, and it's possible nobody else will even reach triple digits by season's end.
Surprisingly, Vikings fullback C.J. Ham is not one of those guys with 100 run blocking snaps. He has only been a lead blocker for Alexander Mattison 50 times, which is a massive change from a few years ago when he was out there 223 times running in front of Dalvin Cook in 2019.
Instead, Ham leads all fullbacks in pass blocking snaps … a new role that may be a model for the position's survival in the future.
When O'Connell arrived in 2022, he did not bring much history with fullbacks with him. He was fresh off winning the Super Bowl with Sean McVay's Rams, which largely used personnel groupings with one running back and three wide receivers. When [O'Connell] was the offensive coordinator in Washington in 2019 they had fullback Michael Burton, but he was only out there for 68 plays.
So how to Ham go from having his snap count cut in half in 2022 to carving out a fresh role as an interior protector this season? Coller explained the idea for Ham to become an interior pass-blocking specialist was presented to Ham during training camp as a way to reduce pressures that succeeded in 2022.
O'Connell's offense likes to push the ball downfield and on third downs he wants to throw past the sticks. That means using double moves and long-developing route combinations that require the QB to stand in the pocket for a long time. Those plays do not work particularly well if monster defensive tackles, blitzing linebackers or stunting defensive ends come flying through to hit the quarterback. The offensive staff thought if Ham could shore up the middle then Cousins would have more time to let it all develop.
Click here to read Coller's full story on Ham.
Star Tribune's 5 Points Highlight O'Connell's Winning Challenge
O'Connell winning a key challenge versus the Raiders, and Minnesota's defense forcing critical three-and-outs were among Star Tribune writer Mark Craig's five takeaways following Minnesota’s 3-0 win at the Raiders on Sunday.
Craig had high praise for O'Connell, who challenged a 22-yard reception by Raiders receiver Tre Tucker which would've converted a third-and-5 and moved the ball to the Minnesota 45-yard line with 1:11 remaining in the third quarter.
The good: Tucker's second bobble negated the fact he got his toes down inbounds. The play would have been the Raiders' third-longest of the game. O'Connell has thrown his challenge flag 11 times in two years. He's 6-5. The bad: delay of game in the red zone coming out of a timeout. The ugly: having your place-kicker pooch a dangerously returnable punt down the middle of the field in the closing seconds.
Safety Camryn Bynum and defensive tackle Harrison Phillips were the subject of Craig's next point.
The Vikings started the second half with a takeaway and finished the game with two more. In between were four punts, including three three-and-outs and nary a first down in the fourth quarter. The three-and-outs netted 10 yards in nine snaps. Safety Camryn Bynum got the fourth quarter started with a right cross to dislodge the ball from what should have been a first-down catch by rookie tight end Michael Mayer on third-and-4. Bynum also had four tackles and leads all NFL DBs with 103. Tackle Harrison Phillips closed out the three-and-outs with a run stop on second down and a third-down sack that extended his career-high total to three.
Vote for Pace as Rookie of the Week
Ivan Pace, Jr., recorded a career-high 13 tackles, delivered a sack to close the first half and recorded an interception inside the final two minutes on Sunday.
The epic performance garnered a nomination for Pepsi Zero Sugar NFL Rookie of the Week for Week 14.
Fans can vote for Pace at nfl.com/rookies, @NFL on Twitter and in the NFL Mobile app through 10 a.m. (CT) Thursday.
Along with Pace, the other nominees for this week are Giants QB Tommy DeVito, Titans QB Will Levis, Bengals RB Chase Brown, Falcons RB Bijan Robinson and Cowboys K Brandon Aubrey.