Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 9/4/12
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. Many of his Minnesota Vikings teammates were already showered Monday when tight end John Carlson came into the locker room, dripping sweat after doing more conditioning work. For Carlson, who missed the entire preseason with a sprained medial collateral ligament, his physical condition is the biggest concern as he tries to return for Sunday's regular-season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars. "I'm going to have to," Carlson said about putting in extra work after practice. "I missed all of the physical work that the rest of the team got in training camp. Not ideal, but that's the situation and I'm going to continue to push towards that goal of getting into game shape." Carlson said he is ready to play in Sunday's game. Ever since being hurt on July 31, he has stayed next to the rest of the tight ends during practice. He's been in meetings and learning the playbook to make it possible for him to hit the ground running once his conditioning improves. Carlson, who became the key signing when for Minnesota when free agency began in March, also needs to get on the same page with quarterback Christian Ponder and get timing down within the offense. The veteran knows he can understand the playbook, but practicing and playing with his teammates is different. "I'm pretty comfortable with the Xs and Os on paper, but it's different being out there communicating with the tackle, reading coverages, developing that rapport with the quarterback," Carlson said. "That's different than knowing a playbook on paper. As I said, it wasn't ideal to miss training camp, but we're going to do the best we can to, between Christian and me, develop that rapport this week." Getting back on the field is a big step for Carlson, who also missed all of last season after shoulder surgery. The Vikings signed Carlson believing he can join Kyle Rudolph and give the team a pair of pass-catching tight ends to play in multiple tight end sets. He had 106 catches in his first two seasons in the league with 12 touchdowns, but he slipped to 31 catches and one touchdown in 2010 before missing 2011. Trying to get up to speed quickly is nothing new for Carlson. Entering his fifth season in the league, he's playing under his fifth offensive coordinator, joking he's "5 for 5." He's hoping he doesn't have to adjust for a while after signing a five-year contract with Minnesota. Being immersed in so many different offenses actually helps Carlson with his transition to the Vikings. "I would like to have continuity," Carlson said. "I hope that we can have the same system here for a while, but that hasn't been the case in my experience and I think it's helped me to learn new offenses, to deal with different coaches. A lot of the offenses have similarities, run similar concepts, but there are different nuances to those particular offenses so you learn the game more from different angles, different perspective. If anything, I'm a more well-rounded player because of it. The glass half-full." Being a veteran and doing all the mental preparation has kept Carlson from being too far behind, despite the missed time. "That part of it, he's on top of," coach Leslie Frazier said. "We can see that. We can see last week when he came back and even today when we did some of the things that we're doing. But the physical aspect, like when we put the pads on Thursday, we'll learn a little bit more about where he is when we get a chance to bang a little bit and in certain situations. But mentally, he seems to be on top of what his assignments are." Carlson is likely to wear a brace on the knee during games, just as he does for practices. He's ready to play, butCarlson also said his availability for Sunday will come down to a coach's decision. Frazier wasn't counting him out, but wants to see continued improvement in practice this week and see how he responds to Thursday when the team practices in pads. "He's been pretty good," Frazier said. "We need to get him through this entire week. We had him on a limited basis, so we need to get him through this week healthy and see him do some things, let our quarterback get comfortable with him as well. So there's some things he needs to see, along with Christian that will make us all more comfortable." Follow Brian Hall on Twitter.
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