EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — A moment C.J. Ham had been waiting for was even better because he waited a little longer.
Ham, a former star at Duluth's Denfeld High School, made his NFL debut for the Vikings last week in Cincinnati.
Ham entered the Minnesota backfield in the third quarter but handled the bulk of the carries, rushing on 12 of the Vikings 25 attempts for 35 of the team's 56 rush yards. His night was highlighted by a 10-yard touchdown run that capped a 74-yard drive and gave the Vikings a 10-point lead with 1:44 left in the third quarter.
Persistent blocking by teammates led Ham to the end zone. Analyst Pete Bercich said patience played a big part as well.
"This is just a great, patient run by C.J. Ham off the left side," Bercich said during the simulcast on FOX 9 and KFAN 100.3-FM. "He just hangs in there and waits for the blocks to develop in front of him.
"Running behind a fullback, you've got to be patient," Bercich continued. "Nothing on the outside, cuts back up and gets that last bounce outside, which springs him for the touchdown."
Ham slowed himself down as Bengals defenders penetrated the left side of the Vikings line, cut slightly right then shifted up the field, dodged a diving attempt by P.J. Dawson, cut back out to the left, picking up a block from fullback Blake Renaud and split two more Bengals players to dive across the goal line.
"Initially, I thought the play was dead because it was getting stretched out, but everybody kept blocking really hard, and I saw one crease and just hit it," Ham said. "From then on, I kept running and just fell into the end zone."
The score was quite the moment for a player who joined the Vikings after impressing coaches while attending rookie minicamp on a tryout basis. Last season as a senior at Division II Augustana in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Ham rushed for 1,097 yards, becoming the fourth player ever to cross the 1,000-yard threshold in school history. He also tied the school record 16 touchdowns in 2015, but the opportunity to replicate a score for the NFL's Vikings stood tall.
"It was awesome, a dream come true, just being out there on the field and playing in front of all those people," Ham said. "That's the most I've ever played in front of, and I'm just trying to soak it all in right now. It was an amazing experience. I'm just blessed for this opportunity."
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer and veteran defensive end Everson Griffen said they liked what they saw from Ham.
"I think for these young guys that come in, especially the undrafted guys, they say, 'Wow, I can play in this league,' and it gives them a lot of confidence," Zimmer said. "He did a great job blocking the other night, and he ran physical and hard with the ball. So, I think the confidence factor is the biggest thing."
Griffen added: "It's all about opportunities, maximizing opportunities, and any time a young guy gets to go in there, he's maximizing opportunity and doing the right things, running the ball hard or pass rushing good, running to the ball, that's all you can ask for."
Sizing them up
David Morgan's reaction after his first NFL game was a simple one.
The Vikings rookie tight end said Tuesday that his initial impression was how much bigger players in the NFL are compared to college.
"Everyone is massive. Everyone is huge," Morgan said. "It's the NFL so obviously the talent is stepped up.
"It's like going from high school to college, or college to the NFL, it just raises the talent level," he added. "It was a big jump."
Morgan is 6-foot-4 and 265 pounds, but the sixth-round draft pick said he no longer has the size advantage he had while at Texas-San Antonio.
"I was definitely a bigger guy in college," Morgan said. "I'm definitely not the biggest guy out there anymore."
The Texas native turned some heads Friday with his three-catch performance for 38 yards. Zimmer told beat reporters Monday that Morgan, known for his blocking ability, has surprised people with his smooth hands.
Morgan said others have caught on, too.
"A lot of people (said) that," Morgan said with a smile. "When we first started throwing routes out here with the quarterbacks, everyone was like, "Oh, I see you catching the ball.'
"But I knew what I could do," he added.
Play of the day
Xavier Rhodes nabbed another one. Rhodes was matched up against Adam Thielen in a red zone drill. Rhodes looked comfortable with where he was in relationship to the receiver then made a break on the ball. He timed his jump well and recorded yet another interception since training camp opened. Rhodes told Vikings.com how his increased comfort with the defense is allowing him to be more aggressive in making on the football.
Zimmer said Rhodes has improved this camp.
"He has been really conscious about his hand placements, and we've been working real hard on his technique," Zimmer said. "I think he's starting to get the mentality of denying the ball from his guy, and this is the first time that I've really seen him go after the football since I've been here. There have been some plays where he really tries to intercept it, as opposed to just covering them."
"We're going to call those plays, and when they come up, we just have to take advantage of them and hit them, but sometimes, you can't be too greedy. Sometimes the defense will cover what's down the field and you have to check it down to the back, and that way, you're able to call it again later in the game." — Teddy Bridgewater on his 49-yard touchdown pass to Charles Johnson against Cincinnati