Notebook: With second shot, 'I want to push myself,' John Carlson says
Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports
John Carlson's salary was cut in half less than five months after he suffered his fourth concussion.
But the Minnesota Vikings' backup tight end said he was healthy and not deterred from his recent setbacks when he joined teammates on the field this week for organized team activities.
Carlson, who suffered his fourth documented concussion in a game against the Arizona Cardinals on Oct. 21, said simply going through the motions as a healthy player helps him cultivate a mindset he's not used to having -- being physically healthy.
"It's been encouraging to be around guys the last five weeks," Carlson said, "because everyone's come back so focused and in great shape."
A sprained knee during the first week of Vikings' training camp last year, followed by the Oct. 21 concussion, contributed to a disappointing first season in his home state.
In March, Carlson accepted a restructure that cut his base salary from $2.9 million to $1.5 million in 2013 -- a year after they signed him to a five-year, $25 million deal even though he'd sat out the previous season in Seattle.
Limited by injuries and dwarfed by Kyle Rudolph's nine touchdowns, Carlson finished 2012 with career-lows in receptions (eight), yards (43) and touchdowns (none).
"He's a very talented guy," Vikings' coach Leslie Frazier said of Carlson, who turned 29 this month. "But he's had trouble staying on the field."
Carlson (6-foot-5, 251 pounds) is as physically gifted as any backup tight end the Vikings have and comes with more NFL experience.
"When we sat down and talked, one of his goals (was) stay healthy," Frazier said.
Two known concussions followed Carlson from Notre Dame to the NFL, where he was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in 2008. Carlson landed in the hospital in January 2011 after suffering another concussion when he hit his head on the frozen Soldier Field turf during the Seahawks' divisional playoff loss to Chicago.
Frazier said once Carlson is healthy, he hopes Carlson can become a down-the-field threat for the Vikings, just as he was for the Seahawks when he caught passes of 30 or more yards in each of his three seasons with Seattle.
"If we can get him through OTAs, get him through training camp, into regular season, we feel his numbers will be a lot better," Frazier said. "We're all hoping he can stay healthy."
Until then, it's all about the little things for Carlson, including focusing on his footwork during drills, toying with his teammates and enjoying the lack of rehabilitation he's accustomed to during this time of year.
In terms of production, he said he'll let the fans judge.
"I want to push myself as a player," Carlson said. "But what that equates to in terms of numbers, that's hard to say."
"We were talking (Wednesday) after practice and what not, just talking about what he sees, how I see it, so we can be on the same page," Jennings said Thursday during the Vikings' annual playground build at the Howe Campus of Hiawatha Community School.
According to Jennings, the time he missed during the Vikings' opening week of OTAs is a nonfactor toward garnering a rapport with Ponder.
"With a guy like Christian, he's very smart," Jennings said. "You pick each other's brains, and once you're on the field, that chemistry starts to form itself."
Fellow Vikings newcomer and rookie receiver Cordarrelle Patterson also caught the eye of Jennings, who said he might be able to help Patterson with route-running techniques that Jennings prides himself on.
"You can definitely see the talent that is there (in Patterson)," Jennings said. "It's raw, but you can tell he's a guy that's been gifted, been better than most he's gone up against.
"It's not a one-way street. I'm watching him to see what I can add to my game as well."
The Vikings have now contributed towards the construction of eight playgrounds in the Twin Cities area, donating $528,910 toward the projects.
The Toro Company, which is based in Minnesota, and the national nonprofit KaBOOM! also contributed. But the arrival of Vikings players and coaches after an abbreviated OTA practice was, as always, a highlight for the roughly 200 volunteers present.
"You see all our guys -- Adrian (Peterson), Christian, everybody out there -- working with the shovels, carrying cement, pushing mulch," Frazier said. "It's a little camaraderie-building as well for our team, because we get the chance to be in a different environment, kind of breaks the monotony of practice as well."
The contract linebacker Stanford Keglar signed with the Vikings on Wednesday is for one year and $630,000, an NFL source said.
As expected, Keglar -- who had been out of the NFL since Houston cut him in September 2011 -- received no guaranteed money. There is a $358,000 injury split.
The Vikings are now $7.132 million under their adjusted salary cap of $129.793 million. They still must sign their three first-round draft picks.