More than once, I've referred to any play made by John Carlson as the return of John Carlson's Ghost.
He makes no bones about it; he had a disappointing season last year, but he's not letting it affect his outlook for the 2013 season.
"I was disappointed in how I impacted the team last year, positively at least," he told me. "It's a little bit of a motivating factor, but every year you've got to come back motivated to play and contribute and work, otherwise you're not going to be here."
Aside from knowing he has to improve, he also is aware of how much things can change. "Every year is a new year in the NFL," he said.
While Carlson wouldn't isolate a reason he had such a down year, Frazier was a bit more forthcoming and isolated his absence at training camp as a prime reason that the former Seattle Seahawk couldn't make big plays.
"[He needs to be] staying on the field through training camp so that our quarterback can get a comfort level with him, can develop the timing that we need and can integrate him into our system," he said. "As opposed to these missing long periods of time at training camp and we get him back at Week One or Week Two—that's another process of trying to get him integrated into our offense."
That chemistry and timing may be a critical part of what drives the Vikings offense forward, more than most. Knowing where the receivers will be and what they can do is a key marker of the Musgrave offense, modeled in parts on the West Coast passing scheme and Erhardt-Perkins offensive system.
Because single steps in a route can determine whether or not a ball thrown before the break will be off-target or dead-on, missing time could impact Carlson more than most other players in other offenses.
As it is, there's nothing that Frazier or Carlson see as different about this year other than that camp time, and that includes his health. When asked if there was anything that held back his production, Frazier stressed that Carlson's injury didn't create nagging problems throughout the season or that there would be anything carried over into this one.
"I think physically he still can do all the things he could do prior to his injuries," he said.
For Carlson, the drive has been to make good on the practice field so that he sees dividends later. "It's one of those things where you just practice every day, continue to work on fundamentals, try to improve a little bit every practice and—string 'em together."
Plainly stated, "That's the formula for success. It's simple but it's not easy."
Those practices will be critical for his chemistry with Ponder, although getting good with the QB isn't everything as a tight end.
The tight ends in the Vikings offense line up everywhere. "They use tight ends in a lot of different ways," Carlson said in response to questions about him lining up at fullback. "All of us in the tight end group are asked to line up as a receiver, as a tight end on the ball, as a fullback in the backfield. That's just kind of part of coach Musgrave's system."
That's still sort of an odd request, given that Carlson is more well known as a pass catcher than a run blocker or pass protection specialist. But it all fits the approach the Vikings are taking with Carlson. "The goal is to improve on every facet of the game," the tight end explained. "As a tight end we're asked to run block and we've got a great running game, so that's a big part of what we do. At times we have to pass protect, and obviously we all want to make plays in the passing game catching the ball."
He wasn't willing to go so far as to say whether or not run blocking was a weakness of his, but he did acknowledge that he has to improve in everything he does in order to make an impact on the team.
At the very least, Frazier is optimistic about what Carlson can do.
"[we're] just focusing on 2013 and putting 2012 behind us. That's what he wants to do, that's what we all want to do and we know if he can stay healthy, he can help our football team."